CAPE TOWN – It was double delight for Kenya as Edwin Kibet Koech and Celestine Chepchirchir triumphed at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon yesterday, in yet another marathon triumph for the Mother City.
In overcast conditions, near perfect for marathon running, Cape Town was a blaze of colour as twenty thousand runners completed the marathon and 10km Peace Run and Walk.
While a north wind in the closing quarter might have robbed the 32-year-old Koech of a race record, his compatriot, Chepchirchir was never going to be denied, lopping almost three minutes off Helalia Johannes’ year old record to take line honours in 2:26:44, the fastest time ever run on the African continent. Chepchirchir was 52 seconds quicker than the time Frith van der Merwe ran 20 years ago in Port Elizabeth on a non-accredited course.
Also unprecedented in Africa was that the first four women were home in under 2 hrs 30 min, indicative of the ever-improving world-class standards associated with a gold-label marathon justifiably aiming for platinum.
A trio of top Ethiopian athletes trailed Chepchirchir in quick succession, with Nurit Shimels Yimam and Gete Mindaye Tilahun completing the podium, Yimam delighted with a 1-minute personal best time of 2:27:40.
Koech won in 2:09:20 – 49 seconds outside Stephen Mokoka’s record, set last year.
Pace-maker turned racer, Daniel Muindi Muteti, came within a whisker of what would have been a sensational victory, finishing just five seconds behind Koech after having carried out his pace-setting duties to perfection, while Moroccan Mohamed Ziani placed third a further four seconds down after a valiant effort to close the gap on the leading pair in the final kilometres.
While narrowly missing out on a podium finish, Elroy Gelant boldly led the South African charge, finishing fourth in an Olympic qualifying 2:10:31 more than two minutes inside his debut marathon run in Cape Town in 2017.
“For me that was a great run,” said a well-satisfied Koech. “The course was perfect. There was no-one to really push me towards the end, so I think that was why I missed the record. The wind was not too bad.
When the pacemaker (Muteti) came past at 30km, I knew that this guy was going to finish the race. I kept a watch on him and then came through to take the lead just before the finish.”
At just 23 years, Chepchirchir has already competed five marathons, but while many might say ‘too many, too soon’, the Kenyan disagrees. “I think I can improve quite a lot. I found the course tough and battled with the wind in the second half.”
Having seven younger sisters, the youngest just five years of age, none of whom aspire to be athletes, inspires Chepchirchir to greater heights. Chepchirchir made her move just five kilometres from the finish as the athletes approached the city centre, breaking clear of her two Ethiopian rivals before going on to win by a minute, becoming the second Kenyan woman to lift the Cape Town trophy after Isabella Ochichi in 2015.
Local Cape Town athlete, Annie Bothma, was the first South African home, winning the SA Championship title, placing 11 th overall in 2:41:44 in a solid marathon debut.
One of the most impressive performances of the day, was the new women’s 10km record of 32:44, set by Kraaifontein-based Zimbabwean, Fortunate Chidzivo. The time also constitutes a Zimbabwe record, 15 seconds quicker that the time set by Rutendo Nyahora, who placed third behind South African Kesamolotsane.
Precious Mashele defended his 10km title, winning in an excellent 28:36, holding off a fast-finishing Mbuleli Mathanga by 4 seconds. Desmond Mokgobu had an excellent preparation for the marathon at the World Championships in Doha next month by finishing third in 28:48.