Gebrselassie Falters Over Final 6k in Tokyo - Olympic Spot in Question

Kenya's Michael Kipyego Overtakes Ethiopian Great For 2:07:37 Win; Geb 2:08:17

Emory Mort,
25 February, 2012

(Tokyo, Japan) In a race not wanting for drama, Haile Gebrselassie, arguably the greatest distance runner in the history of the sport, surged to the lead late in Sunday's Tokyo Marathon, only to fade and finish fourth in 2:08:17, a disappointing result that leaves The Emperor looking at a wild-card entry as his only shot at the 2012 Ethiopian Olympic marathon team.

Running alongside countryman and defending Tokyo champion Hailu Mekonnen with fewer than 4 miles remaining, Gebrselassie surged to the lead while holding out hope for at least a 2:06 finishing time after a well-paced 62:51 opening half under generally favorable conditions. But the hills on the back end of the Tokyo course slowed the aging veteran and last year's champ Mekonnen as both would surprisingly fade and get caught. First, Geb was shockingly caught by Kenyan Michael Kipyego around 38k who quickly opened a gap. Next came Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich, who passed Haile before the 40k mark. And to complete the unpredictable late-race action, Japanese star Arata Fujiwara marked his name in the record books by passing Haile Gebrselassie, then passing Kiprotich in the final 500m and ultimately finishing 2nd in 2:07:48, good enough for #7 all-time for Japan and a surely automatic spot on Japan's 2012 Olympic marathon squad.

Gebrselassie, like Fujiwara and his Japanese competitors, had his Olympic spot on the line in Tokyo. For The Emperor, his 2:08:17 marks his first completed marathon since January of 2010, but his slowest time since finishing 9th in the 2006 Flora London marathon in 2:09:06. Later that year (2006) he would run 2:05:56 in Berlin, then an Ethiopian national record. But times have changed. In the 2012 Dubai Marathon alone, no fewer than seven Ethiopian men ran faster than 2:05:42. According to Tweets from @JRNheadlines, speaking after the race Gebrselassie cited back pain in the late-race hills and said he 'hopes to shoot for a fast time somewhere.'

(Updated: For more quotes on Geb post-race read this Telegraph article. Geb said, "I could run another marathon in two weeks. I felt fantastic here for the first 30 kilometres, then had some problems at the end of the race. Sometimes you are too ambitious. This can happen. My target was 2-05 today but it didn't work out that way. On the last downhill, I started to get some pain in my back. The last 5km was the worst I've ever run." According to Brett Larner, Geb did drop a water bottle around the 35km and then stop to pick it up before not picking it up and continuing on. Wonder if that affected him.)

Swiss veteran Viktor Rothlin surely was thrilled to run 2:08, as he finished only 15 seconds behind Gebrselassie. Mekonnen, dropped at 36k after assuming the post-rabbit front-running spot around 25k, faded back to a distant 8th in 2:09:59. In the race for Japanese supremacy, after Fujiwara, whose 2:07 marks the first Japanese sub-2:08 since Fukuoka '07, Kazuhiro Maeda also made a strong Olympic bid with his 6th-place 2:08:38, one spot ahead of Takayuki Matsumiya in 2:09:28. LRC favorite Yuki Kawauchi failed to meet pre-race expectations with his 14th-place 2:12:51 while Masakazu Fujiwara fell to 31st (2:16:46) after a fast start (29:34 through 10k) with the lead pack.

Special thanks to Brett Larner of for his twitter updates that allowed the majority of the LRC message boards to follow along with the race since watching the international live web feed was glitchy at best. Brett's blog is always the best coverage of Japanese running.

*Brett Larner's Full Tokyo Recap   *IAAF Recap of Tokyo

Top Men's Results

Unofficial Men's Splits

1 Michael Kipyego Kipkorir KEN 02:07:37
2 Arata Fujiwara JPN 02:07:48 PB
3 Stephen Kiprotich UGA 02:07:50
4 Haile Gebrselassie ETH 02:08:17
5 Viktor Rothlin SWI 02:08:32
6 Kazuhiro Maeda JPN 02:08:38 PB
7 Takayuki Matsumiya JPN 02:09:28 PB
8 Hailu Mekonnen ETH 02:09:59
9 Takeshi Kunamoto JPN 02:10:13 PB
10 Atsushi Ikawa JPN 02:11:26

5k 14:41
10k 14:53 (29:34)
15k 15:06 (44:40)
20k 14:54 (59:34)
25k 14:40 (1:14:14)
30k 14:52 (1:29:06)
35k 15:34 (1:44:40) Haile
40k 15:55 (2:00:35) Kipyego, Kiprotich, Haile, Fujiwara


Women's Race Also Features Late-Race Fireworks
Ethiopian Atsede Habtamu, 4th in Berlin in 2011 in 2:24, came through in the late stages to overtake Japan's aggressive Eri Okubo at 39.5km and charge for home and a course record. Up by over a minute at 15k and under course record pace herself, Okubo disastrously faded in the final miles, ending 4th and narrowly defeated by Ethiopian Yeshi Esayias and Kenyan Helena Kirop.

Top Women's Results

1. Atsede Habtamu ETH - 2:25:28 - CR
2. Yeshi Esayias ETH - 2:26:00 - PB
3. Helena Kirop KEN - 2:26:02
4. Eri Okubo JPN - 2:26:08 - PB

*Brett Larner's Full Tokyo Recap   *IAAF Recap of Tokyo


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