x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kenyan Abel Kirui defends marathon title at world championships

Kirui leads a Kenyan one-two with Vincent Kipruto, while the Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa takes bronze.

Abel Kirui is cheered on by Kenyan compatirots during his successful defence of the marathon title at the world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea.
Abel Kirui is cheered on by Kenyan compatirots during his successful defence of the marathon title at the world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea.

DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA // Abel Kirui offered further proof of Kenya's dominance in the long distance running after the defending champion lead a one-two in the marathon at the world athletics championships.

Kirui, who set a championship record two years ago in Berlin, won the race in 2 hours, 7 mins, 38 secs to claim Kenya's seventh gold medal.

Kenyan teammate Vincent Kipruto came in second, finishing in 2:10:06. Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia took third in 2:10:32. It was the largest margin of victory in the world championships.

"This is history," Kirui said. "It is also good [for] the country. It is good for my family. It is great."

Kenya's seventh gold of the competition, moves the nation into second place behind the US in the medals table.

The one-two finish follows Kenya's sweep of the women's marathon and 10,000 on the opening day. Kenya also took gold and silver in the men's 1,500.

Kirui made his move just before the 30 kilometre mark, opening up a 11 secs lead over Kipruto and Lilesa, who was doing his best to prevent a Kenya sweep. Kipruto and Lilesa then battled it out for second, with Kirui, who has the third fastest marathon time this year, edging ahead at 35km.

Kirui said the early move was part of his plan to avoid any mishaps at the end of the race.

"When it comes to a race where you are have strong competitors you also have to be wise," Kirui said. "Running is not only legs. It's also the mind."

Kipruto, who was making his debut at the world championships, said he knew he would never challenge his teammate for gold once Kirui took off.

"I knew I would not catch him because he was going too fast," Kipruto said.

Kirui, 27, raised his arms and pointed to the sky as he crossed the finish line. He then bowed and put his hands together as if to pray before doing a little jig and grabbing a Kenyan flag.

He also knelt, saying later that he thought of the Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya, who died in June after falling at his home following a domestic dispute. Wanjiru had won five of his seven marathons and was the youngest runner to win four "major" marathons.

"We are sorry for what happened to Wanjiru. I was wishing Wanjiru could have been running today," Kirui said. "We are very sorry. We are here to play the role Wanjiru used to play."

The day turned out to be a perfect comeback for Kirui, who has struggled with injury since his win in Berlin two years ago and was a late addition to Kenya's marathon squad because of his health problems.

Africans set the tone early in the race, with Mohale Modike Lucky of South Africa leading runners from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia down the streets of Daegu at the 10km mark. At 15km, Kipruto took the lead before giving it up a few minutes later to a surging Moroccan trio led by Ahmed Baday. The Kenyans fought right back, with Kirui leading the pack alongside teammate Eliud Kiptanui at the 20km mark.

Just after the halfway point, a group of about six runners led by the Kirui, Kiptanui and Kipruto broke off from the rest of the pack. It was reduced to four men about 5km later, with only Lilesa managing to keep pace with the Kenyans.