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Kipchoge is back where he belongs

ATHLETICS By Jonathan Komen | April 19th 2021
Athletics - NN Mission Marathon - Twente Airport, Enschede, Netherlands - April 18, 2021. Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates winning the men's race on the podium. [Pool via REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw]

Eliud Kipchoge waited until the final 30 minutes of the NN Mission Marathon to make his winning move as the Kenyan great kicked on to win the World Athletics Label road race in 2:04:30 at Twente Airport in Enschede, The Netherlands, yesterday.

The Olympic champion had little to prove; his place on Kenya’s team for Tokyo had already been confirmed, as has his status as one of the all-time greats. But following a rare defeat at the London Marathon last year, where he finished a distant eighth place, the world record holder was keen to produce a confidence-boosting performance ahead of the Olympic Games.

He did exactly that yesterday, despite having to contend with some late changes to the race plans as the event had originally been set for April 11, in Hamburg, Germany.

Unlike many of Kipchoge’s previous marathon races, yesterday's event was never intended as an opportunity to chase record times. Nevertheless, the pace was swift as a lead group of four reached 15km in 43:46, just outside 2:03 pace.

After going through half way in 1:01:43, with Kipchoge running alongside pacemakers Philemon Kacheran and Jonathan Korir, the pace settled in the second half with each five-kilometre segment being covered in just outside 14:50.

Kipchoge and Kenya's Jonathan Korir during the marathon. [REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw]

By the time Kipchoge and the pacing duo reached 30km in 1:28:10, the chase pack was more than two minutes adrift but still on course for Olympic qualifying times. Shortly after, with 1:35 on the clock, Kipchoge left his pacemakers behind.

His tempo didn’t actually increase in the closing stages, but he maintained his sub-three-minute kilometre pace, which brought him to the finish line in a world-leading 2:04:30.

Korir held on for second place in 2:06:40 with Eritrea’s Goitom Kifle coming through to take third in 2:08:07. A little further behind, Uganda’s 2012 Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich placed fifth in 2:09:04.

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“Mission accomplished,” said Kipchoge. “The conditions were really good, a bit windy, but I had no complaints. The race was perfect. This was the real test towards Tokyo. It’s good to have a marathon a few months before the Olympics to test my fitness.”

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates winning the men's race on the podium with second placed Kenya's Jonathan Korir and third placed Eritrea's Goitom Kifle. [REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw]

The leading contenders in the women’s race were paced by a small group of men, reaching 10km in 34:39 and half way in 1:12:58. Kenya’s Gladys Chesir, Sweden’s Hanna Lindholm and German duo Laura Hottenrott and Katharina Steinruck were all still in contention at this point, but Lindholm started to fade as they embarked on the second half.

Chesir, the 2010 Commonwealth Youth Games 3000m champion, was next to drop back, doing so after about 90 minutes of running, leaving Steinruck and Hottenrott as the lead duo. Steinruck (nee Heinig) began to edge ahead of her domestic rival in the final seven kilometres and the race was finally decided.

Steinruck reached the finish line in 2:25:59, elevating her to sixth on the German all-time list, just three places and 84 seconds adrift of her mother, Katrin Dorre-Heinig, the 1988 Olympic bronze medallist.

Portugal’s Sara Moreira finished strongly to take second place in 2:26:42 with Germany’s Rabea Schoneborn placing third in 2:27:03.

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