Gotytom Gebreslase. This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia won the women’s marathon at the 2022 World Athletics Championship, finishing the race in a new championship record of two hours, 18 minutes and 11 seconds.

Judith Jeptum Korir (2:18:20) of Kenya took silver and Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel (2:20:18), the bronze.

It was an engaging race with a lead pack built around defending champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya, emerging not long after the start. However, Chepngetich was forced to withdraw from the competition between kilometres 18 and 19, due to stomach issues (as per race commentary). When Chepengetich stepped off the course, the others in the pack wasted no time in accelerating, ostensibly to make it difficult for her to catch up. From this churn, a new lead quartet was born featuring Korir, Angela Tanui of Kenya, Gebreslase and Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia. It appeared a case of two Kenyans and two Ethiopians set to battle it out for the medals. The rest of the field was behind by a visible margin although the racers were still short of the half-way mark.

Past the half-way mark, the quartet progressively split into two distinct groups with Korir and Gebreslase emerging as potential contenders for the top two positions. The two groups were separated by a sizable margin. For some time Tanui and Yeshaneh seemed to vie for the bronze before Yeshaneh moved ahead only to be overtaken in turn by Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel and Nazret Weldu of Eritrea. The latter two had steadily reduced the gap between them and Tanui, and then, Yeshaneh. Despite figuring in the lead pack (and later, the duo trailing the leaders) for a good portion of the race, Ababel Yeshaneh eventually dropped off; she was seen clutching her side periodically in the build up to DNF. Roughly two kilometres from the finish line, Gebreslase who had been hovering close at the shoulders of Korir, sometimes to the latter’s discomfort, strode out in front. She increased the gap consistently and went on to finish with a new championship record to her credit.

It was a race with remarkable performances – there was the measured way in which Gebreslase ran; the display of quiet determination by Salpeter, working her way up to pass Tanui and Yeshaneh and stay ahead of Weldu for the bronze medal, and Sarah Hall of the US who too came from behind to finish fifth ahead of Tanui.  There was no dramatic sprint-finish or any such flourish for the race. What lingered instead as aftertaste was the fruits of determined running.

Gebreslase, 27, made her debut in the women’s marathon at the 2021 Berlin Marathon, which she won in 2:20:09.  Later, at the 2022 Tokyo Marathon she finished third with a timing of 2:18:18.  Korir, who took silver, had in April 2022, won in the women’s category at the Paris Marathon with timing of 2:19:48. Born in Kenya and now running for Israel, Salpeter has a personal best of 2:17:45 achieved at the 2020 Tokyo Marathon, where she placed first among women. Yeshaneh is a former world record holder in the women’s half marathon (1:04:31). Prior to that she had finished second (2:20:51) at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Tanui had earlier placed fourth (2:18:42) at the 2022 Tokyo Marathon and before that in October 2021, won at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon (2:17:57). Weldu was winner (2:21:56) among women at the Daegu International Marathon held in April 2022 in Korea. In November 2020, she had finished seventh among women in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon.

According to Runner’s World, besides Sarah Hall, two other American athletes – Emma Bates and Keira D’Amato – finished in the top ten of the women’s marathon at the 2022 world championship in Eugene, making it the best performance by a US marathon squad, male or female, to date at the event. In terms of nationality, the top ten finishers also included two athletes from Kenya and one each from Ethiopia, Israel, Eritrea, Japan and Mexico.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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