EUGENE, Ore. – For more than two hours, pesky Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia ran pretty much within elbow distance of her Kenyan rival. Judith Jeptum Korir kept glaring over her shoulder and gesturing to Gebreslase to take her turn in the lead.
When Gebreslase finally moved to the front, she never looked back.
Patient and lurking for all but six or so minutes, Gebreslase finally rocketed around Korir in Monday's marathon at the world championships and turned what was shaping up to be a close finish into a nine-second victory.
Gebreslase captured gold in a championship-record time of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 11 seconds, with Korir taking silver.
“I felt strong," Gebreslase said, "and decided to leave.”
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, the Kenyan-born runner who represents Israel, earned the bronze medal. Sara Hall led a strong showing by the Americans with a fifth-place finish.
It's now back-to-back wins for Ethiopia in the world marathon on the flat, fast streets of Eugene and Springfield. Tamirat Tola won the men's race the day before in a championship-record time as well.
The two-runner women's show was set up when Korir and Gebreslase pulled away from the field at around the 17-mile mark (27 kilometers). Soon after, they stretched their gap over the next pack to nearly a minute.
Out in front, Korir grew more and more agitated as she did most of the work in the lead while Gebreslase literally tucked herself in behind Korir's elbow.
Korir kept looking back, motioning for Gebreslase to take her turn in setting the blistering pace.
It's not uncommon at longer distances for opponents to alternate racing in front in the early stages, allowing everyone to take turns conserving energy. Then, late in the race, all bets are off.
In this race, though, Gebreslase was content running one step behind Korir.
“It bothered me a bit, the fact that she did not want to pace with me,” Korir said.
The tactic worked, as Gebreslase saw an opening, surged ahead and sped away.
“The Ethiopian runners are very fast,” said Korir, whose medal was the 11th overall in the women’s world marathon for Kenya. “It not easy to be run with them, but I tried my best.”
On a crisp morning with the temperature hovering around 50-degree Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), Gebreslase broke the championship record of 2:20:57 set by Paula Radcliffe of Britain in 2005 in Helsinki.
This reflected just how fast the race was: The time of Nazret Weldu of Eritrea was 2:20:29, which would’ve been a championship record. She wound up fourth.
The lead pack took off quickly and left behind many in the 40-runner field early on. The race changed complexion around the 12-mile mark (19 kilometers) when defending champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya dropped back and later dropped out.
The 39-year-old Hall got stronger throughout the race to finish in 2:22:10. Emma Bates took seventh, while American women’s marathon record holder and real-estate agent Keira D’Amato was eighth.
D’Amato was a late replacement for Molly Seidel, who captured a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Seidel recently posted on Instagram she was focusing on her mental health and healing her hip.
Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon winner, started the field on their way along along the three-loop course that proved to be extremely fast. The racers cruised through a scenic route that crossed over the Willamette River and by Pre’s Trail, a bark running trail that honors University of Oregon track and field icon Steve Prefontaine.
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