Solomon Deksisa arrived here as firm favourite for the Tata Mumbai Marathon, stamped his authority and became only the second Ethiopian to win the men’s title, staving off a spirited challenge from compatriot Shumet Akalnaw and Kenyan Joshua Kipkorir.
The 23-year-old Ethiopian clocked 2:09:34s, 3:12s off his personal best achieved as a runner-up at the Rotterdam marathon two years ago.
But Deksisa had enough reasons to celebrate; it was his first title in six races.
Amane Gobena made it a memorable day for the Ethiopians, winning the women’s title.
Deksisa may be a far cry from the likes of the legendary Abebe Bikila, who ran barefoot, and the magnificent long distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, but he was the cynosure of all eyes once the Elite runners crossed the red-line start near about the CSMT.
The three podium finishers censured the pacesetters — Kenyan Jacob Kendagor, Ugandan Ezekiel and South African Xolisa Tyali — for not being up to the mark and also pointed out instances of amateur runners straying from their path and proving to be a hindrance.
But, on an eventful Sunday when the temperature hit its peak in the morning hours, Deksisa was all by himself from the 35km mark, shrugging off a gallant attempt by the 29-year-old Akalnaw on the return Marine Drive stretch.
With the field comprising runners with excellent credentials to bring down Kenyan Gideon Kipketer’s course record of 2:08:35s set in January, 2016, there was much suspense as Deksisa looked at his watch, took a few swigs from the water-bottle and began his final kick on the concrete surface across the Arabian sea, some 2km from the finish.
But, he gave up with happy thoughts of going to win his maiden marathon and keeping track of the immediate challenger, Akalnaw.
His coach said heat and humidity was a deterrent. “Last year it was 19/20°, this time it was 26,” he said.
Sporting a tricolour headgear, Deksisa said after the race: “I expected to win. This win will motivate me to participate in other races.”
“Shumet was behind me and was close and I was worried. So I did not realise about the turns on the last 700m. I stayed at the back of the front pack when the pacesetters were around, but decided to go ahead after they dropped off. They did not do their job.”
According to the top three finishers, the first pacesetter dropped off at the 15km mark, the second at 25 and the third after 28.
“They did not run to push us enough,” revealed Kipkorir, who made the first move to break free, stayed ahead till the 29km mark, but let Deksisa go thereafter.
A tussle appeared to be on the cards when Kenyan women’s defending champion Bornes Kitur and Amane stayed behind the pacesetters. But, from the 25km mark, it was Amane all the way.
“There were too many people (amateur runners) and I missed drinking water at the 5th, 15th and 30th km marks,” said Bornes.
Olympic marathoners T. Gopi (2:16:51s) and Sudha Singh (2:48:32) claimed the Indian men’s and women’s titles.
Nitendra Rawat was second behind Army teammate Gopi in the Indian category and 12th overall, felt the elite races could begin earlier when it was cooler.
“We can aim for the course record when the run starts at 6 a.m., not 7.10, when the sun is up a few kilometres into the race.” He finished second in 2:16:54 (owner of Indian course record 2:15:48).
Gopi generated his own pace crossing the tape one second later than the 10th runner overall (Kenyan Elliud Barnegetuny clocked 2:16:50) and will earn $1,500 and ₹5 lakh as the Indian topper.
“I aimed for the course record till 30km and realised that our pacesetter was slowing down. We ran without anyone to pace us after 32km,” he said.
India’s two leading marathoners were shoulder-to-shoulder before Gopi upped his speed. “Having realised that establishing a new record was out of reach, finishing first became my objective,” he said.
Interestingly, Gopi was designated pacesetter in 2015 for Army Sports Institute teammates. He finished second and cleared Olympic qualification for the Rio Olympics, where he posted a personal best 2:15:25.
Gopi’s Olympic best, clocked when finishing 25th against world-class competition, would have earned him eighth place overall, ahead of many African runners in MM 2018 (Abraham Girma 2:15:28 was eighth here).
“The Delhi marathon is my next destination,” said the Kerala-born marathoner, whose career in road running received a boost from the time he was entered for the IAAF Silver Label event.
The Indian women runners over the full marathon had a better experience with former New York marathon champion Hendrik Ramaala doing his job to the runners’ satisfaction.
“Our pacesetter did his best to spur us on, the heat affected us,” reasoned Sudha.
The South African, men’s champion here in 2004, urged fans to cheer for their fellow runners, in a bid to motivate them to increase the pace.
Jyoti Gawate (2:50:47) and Fazul Chowdhary (2:53:26) finished in that order behind the leader.
Srini Bugatha gained the third place in men’s category, a 5000 and 10,000m runner who was running a marathon for the first time.
The half-marathon (21km) was won by Pardeep Singh and Sanjivani Jadhav.
The results: Men Elite: 1. Solomon Deksisa (Eth, 2:09:34); 2. Shumet Akalnaw (Eth, 2:10:00); 3. Joshua Kipkorir (Ken, 2:10:30); 4. Shumi Dechasa (Bah, 2:12:24): 5. Bantie Aychew (Eth, 2:12:49).
Women Elite: 1. Amane Gobena (Eth, 2:25:49); 2. Bornes Kitur (Ken, 2:28:48); 3. Shuko Genemo (Eth, 2:29:41); 4. Birke Debele (Eth, 2:29:45); 5. Kaftu Tahir (Eth, 2:35:01).
Prize money: 1. $42,000; 2. $23,000; 3.$17,000; 4.$12,000; 5. $8,000.
Indians: Full marathon: Men: 1. T. Gopi (2:16:51); 2. Nitendra Rawat (2:1654); 3. Srini Bugatha (2:23:56).
Women: 1. Sudha Singh (2:48:32); Jyoti Gawate (2:50:47); Parul Chaudhary (2:53:26).
Half marathon: Men: 1. Pardeep Singh (1:05:42); 2. Shankar Mann Thapa (1:06:40); 3. Deepak Kumbhar (1:06:54).
Women: 1. Sanjeevani Jadhav (1:26:24); 2. Monika Athare (1:27:15); 3. Juma Khaturn (1:27:48).