AUSTRALIA, July 3 – Kenya’s Kenneth Mungara came from behind to successfully defended his Gold Coast marathon title on Sunday.
Japan’s globetrotting marathon man Yuki Kawauchi had galloped into the lead before the 30km point, a surge which was swiftly countered by defending champion Mungara.
The pair then settled down to battle out the final 15 kilometres of the race.
It was Mungara who delivered the decisive late swing, however, edging away from Kawauchi with a final sprint that delivered a one-second victory, 2:09:00 to 2:09:01.
Australia’s political elite could only have envied such a clear, albeit narrow, result.
After winning last year in a record 2:08:42, Mungara admitted that he was “asleep” when the first decisive moves were made late in the men’s race.
When race ambassador Steve Moneghetti asked him whether he was awake when Kawauchi surged to the front this year, Mungara replied: “I had one eye open this time.”
Once Mungara had reeled the tireless Kawauchi in, it was the Kenyan who did most of the leading as the two broke well clear off the chasing pack. But he had not broken him as the race entered the closing stages and it came down to a final sprint.
“I saw Yuki going alone,” Mungara said of the surge, “so I had to work with him to chase him. I realised I could do something.”
He admitted the pressure of leading in the closing stages was sometimes “a headache”, but added: “You can’t think about who is behind you because there’s no point. They’ll always be behind you.
“If you think like that, it will get to you.”
By the narrowest of margins, it did not “get to” Mungara. His 2:09:00 was the second-fastest winning time in Gold Coast marathon history, bettered only by his own 2:08:42 last year. The finish was the closest in the 38 runnings of the marathon.
The late-race duel evoked memories of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games race in which Robert de Castella defeated Juma Ikangaa, 2:09:18 to 2:09:30.
De Castella’s time stood as the Australian all-comers’ record until Silah Limu and then Mungara improved it in the past two Gold Coast races.
Despite his narrow loss, Kawauchi finished with the satisfaction of breaking 2:10 for the first time in 18 months after a series of injuries put a check on his frequent high-level marathoning.
It came just two weeks after he set a Japanese national record at 50km.
Kawauchi admitted he was hanging on in the last stages and had nothing extra to produce.
“I was really hurting those last few kilometres, it really hurt,” he said. “If I had anything left I would have had the last kick to win it, but I am 100 percent satisfied with what I did today.”
Abdelhadi El Hachimi of Belgium was third in 2:10:35, a performance which may earn him Olympic selection. Fastest man on paper at 2:05:38, Kenya’s Peter Some, was seventh in 2:15:09.
Horie continues Japanese dominance
The women’s race saw a more decisive result, even if it was something of a surprise, as Japan’s Misato Horie won in a race record of 2:26:40 ahead of Ethiopia’s Chala Tollesa and Kenya’s Leah Kiprono.
Japanese women had won the past four Gold Coast marathons, but faced a daunting challenge to continue that supremacy in 2016.
Ethiopian pair Chala Tollesa (shown in this race as Gulume Chala) and Meseret Biru (sometimes known as Mengistu) came with superior times and records.
Tollesa won last October’s Frankfurt Marathon in a personal best 2:23:12 and Biru won in Paris earlier in 2015 in 2:23:26.
Against that, Horie’s best was only 2:27:57, which did not seem enough, despite the fact that it had come in the Nagoya women’s marathon earlier this year.
Those reservations were swept aside as she finished over a minute ahead of Tollesa in a race record 2:26:40.
Horie said she was well aware of the Japanese domination of the women’s race in recent years.
“I was certainly conscious that I had the potential to make it five in a row for the Japanese women, so I was thinking about that,” she said.
Her time took 37 seconds off the previous women’s record of 2:27:17, set by Yukiko Akaba in 2013.