Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich struck gold in the women’s marathon at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships which got underway in Doha on September 27.
Running in hot and humid weather conditions, she covered the distance in 2:32:43. Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo took silver with timing of 2:33:46 while bronze went to Namibia’s Helalia Johannes, who finished in 2:34:15.
It was the first time a marathon was being run at midnight at a world championship. The choice of that hour was to beat the region’s warm weather. “ On this occasion the challenge was about endurance rather than speed as the race began in temperatures officially estimated at between 30 and 32.7 Centigrade, and humidity of 73 per cent,’’ a report about the race and the 25 year old-Kenyan athlete’s winning run, available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said. A related BBC report pointed out that of 68 runners who started the race, 28 pulled out owing to the weather conditions. Among those pulling out was Britain’s Charlotte Purdue and Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, winner at the 2019 Tokyo Marathon. The BBC report quoted Ethiopia’s marathon coach Haji Adillo Roba saying that they wouldn’t have run the race in such conditions in their country.
Ahead of the Doha championships kicking off, there were concerns that the women’s marathon may not be held as scheduled because of the prevailing warm weather. Eventually, the organizers decided to proceed with it. On September 27, the IAAF issued a press statement confirming the decision. “ The IAAF has today sent a letter to the entrants in the women’s marathon at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 confirming that the race will go ahead as planned this evening. The latest weather information confirms that the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature for tonight’s race will be at or below 30 degrees. This is within the range (28 to 30.9 degrees WBGT) that has been predicted and planned for in the past six months. Team leaders and team doctors were briefed about the conditions for the endurance events at the Technical Meeting yesterday. As of noon today, all 69 women who were on the start list two days ago remained scheduled to start the race (the final entry list of 71 athletes included two reserves),” the statement said. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is the recognized international standard for measuring heat, humidity and thermal stress conditions. The IAAF Competition Medical Guidelines recommend that mitigation measures should be implemented in endurance events where the WBGT measure is over 28°C.
According to the statement, the IAAF and the Local Organizing Committee did everything possible to minimize the heat-related risks. Steps taken included running the endurance events at midnight, disseminating information to all member federations over the past six months, increasing the number of refreshment points along the course, over-scaling the medical plan for the endurance events, recruiting leading medical experts to be part of the medical team and maintaining communication between IAAF medical doctors and team doctors. It also informed that the IAAF Medical Delegate had reassured all competing athletes that the weather would be carefully monitored throughout the day and shared with the teams before the start of the race, to ensure the event is run at an acceptable level of health risk.
At the previous world championships held in London (2017), the women’s marathon had been a slow but keenly fought affair with Chelimo breasting the tape in 2:27:11, Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat placing second in 2:27:18 and Amy Cragg of the US finishing third with the same timing, 2:27:18. Earlier this year – in January – Ruth Chepngetich had topped the women’s segment of the 2019 Dubai Marathon, with finish time of 2:17:08, which is her personal best in the full marathon. She has a personal best of 1:05:30 in the half marathon and 31:12 over the 10 kilometers. Rose Chelimo has a personal best of 2:24:14 in the marathon; that of Helalia Johannes is 2:22:25.
The current Indian national record in the women’s marathon is 2:34:43 set by O. P. Jaisha at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)