JAPAN, Gifu, May 15 – After breaking away from her competitors after just 5km at the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon, Eunice Kirwa set a course record of 1:08:55 to successfully defend her title at the IAAF Silver Label Road Race on Sunday.
The world marathon bronze medallist took 42 seconds off the course record she set last year to achieve her fifth consecutive victory in Japan.
Along with her back-to-back victories in Gifu, the Asian Games champion has twice won the Nagoya Marathon and earlier this year won the Marugame Half Marathon.
Kirwa and Rebecca Kangogo Chesir went out fast, passing 5km together in 15:49, 22 seconds quicker than Kirwa managed at the same checkpoint in last year’s race when she set a course record.
Just like last year, Kirwa then broke away from her final challenger and by 10km, reached in 32:03, she was 10 seconds ahead of Chesir.
Japan’s Kayoko Fukushi, the Asian half marathon record-holder, was expected to challenge Kirwa, but such a clash never materialised. Fukushi was in third place at 10km, nearly a minute behind Kirwa.
Kirwa continued to pull away from her competitors. By 15km, Kirwa was nearly a minute ahead of second-placed Chesir, and by 20km her lead had grown to two minutes.
The 31-year-old went on to win by more than two minutes, clocking 1:08:55 for her sixth sub-69-minute performance.
Betelhem Moges, who moved into third place before 15km, caught Chesir just before the finish line to finish second in 1:11:09. Chesir in third was credited with the same time as Moges.
Visiline Jepkesho, the 2014 Gifu Seiryu champion, was fourth in 1:11:33, while Veronica Nyaruai Wanjiru finished fifth in a huge personal best of 1:11:59.
Fukushi not only continued to lose ground against Kirwa and Chesir, but she was also passed by Moges, Jepkesho and Wanjiru in the second half and finished sixth in 1:12:04.
She was followed three seconds later by Yuka Ando, who recorded her first loss against a Japanese woman this year.
Fifth time lucky for Mwaka
Patrick Mwaka has competed at the past four editions of the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon, finishing third, sixth, fourth and fifth respectively between 2012 and 2015.
But on Sunday he produced a PB of 1:01:51 to out-kick compatriot Paul Kuira, winning by three seconds.
In the early stages of the race, Kenyan teenager Kenneth Keter tried to run away from his competitors by covering the first 5km in 14:25.
Kuira was the only athlete who was able to stay with Keter, but he trailed the youngster by 10 seconds at 10km, which was reached in 28:49.
A five-man chase pack, including Mwaka and two-time Gifu Seiryu winner Martin Mathathi, was another seven seconds behind.
Keter stayed ahead through 15km at 43:45, still more than ten seconds ahead of second-placed Kuira who by now had Mwaka for company.
Kuira and Mwaka ran together and soon reeled in Keter and by 20km, reached in 58:41, they were more than 20 seconds ahead of Keter.
Nearing the finish line, Mwaka surged away from Kuira to win by three seconds in 1:01:51.
Mathathi passed the faltering Keter for third place in 1:02:12, 14 seconds ahead of Keter.
Michael Githae finished fifth and James Rungaru, the defending champion, could only manage sixth.
Yusei Nakao, who was fifth at the 2008 World Half Marathon Championships, was the top Japanese finisher in 10th place. He clocked 1:03:38 to finish one second ahead of Yuki Kawauchi.
1 Patrick Mwaka (KEN) 1:01:51
2 Paul Kuira (KEN) 1:01:54
3 Martin Mathati (KEN) 1:02:12
4 Kenneth Keter (KEN) 1:02:26
5 Michael Gitahe (KEN) 1:02:52
6 James Rungaru (KEN) 1:03:04
7 Fabiano Joseph (TAN) 1:03:29
8 Dishon Maina Karukuwa (KEN) 1:03:35
9 Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (MGL) 1:03:37
10 Yusei Nakao (JPN) 1:03:38
11 Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 1:03:39
1 Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (BRN) 1:08:55
2 Betelhem Moges (ETH) 1:11:09
3 Rebecca Kangogo Chesir (KEN) 1:11:09
4 Visiline Jepkesho (KEN) 1:11:33
5 Veronicah Nyaruai Wanjiru (KEN) 1:11:59
6 Kayoko Fukushi (JPN) 1:12:04
7 Yuka Ando (JPN) 1:12:07
8 Mao Kiyota 1:12:20
9 Bornes Jepkirui (KEN) 1:12:40
10 Sayo Nomura (JPN) 1:13:10