Men’s Marathon: Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui Follows Up Boston Victory by Winning 2017 World Title

By Jonathan Gault
August 6, 2017

LONDON — Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui continued his rise to the top ranks of global marathoning on Sunday morning by winning the men’s marathon at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in 2:08:27. The win came on the heels of Kirui’s victory over Galen Rupp in April’s Boston Marathon; he is the first man in history to win both titles in the same year.

Kirui won by breaking away from Dubai Marathon champion Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia — who had gapped Kirui a few minutes earlier — just after the 35-kilometer mark and would cruise from there, pulling away to win by 82 seconds as Tola barely held on for the silver over Tanzania’s Alphonce Felix Simbu, 2:09:49 to 2:09:51.

Geoffrey Kirui Wins 2017 World Championships Geoffrey Kirui Wins 2017 World Championships

With sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s, conditions were a little warm for marathoning and the pace was not particularly fast at the halfway mark, with 21 men within 10 seconds of the lead (65:28).

Shortly after halfway, Tola, Kirui and Kenyan Gideon Kipketer separated from the rest of the pack, and a few minutes later that pack was whittled to two as Kipketer fell off the pace. After splitting 14:44 from 25k to 30k, Tola and Kirui were 23 seconds up on Kipketer and a further 23 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. One of those two men would win the gold.

At first, it looked like Tola would be the one to do it. As they entered the final 10k loop along the River Thames, the Ethiopian attacked and opened up a gap of 15 meters. But he could never fully shake Kirui, who drew level just before 35k before quickly launching an attack of his own. That move did prove decisive, as Kirui had 30 meters on Tola within a matter of seconds; his lead would only grow to the finish as Tola’s leg began bothering him and forced him to slow down. As he climbed toward the finish line on Tower Bridge, Kirui had time to bask in the glory of his victory, the fourth by a Kenyan in the last six editions of these championships.

Though Tola struggled on the way home, he took a well-deserved second ahead of Simbu, who moved up two spots from his fifth-place Olympic finish last year to take bronze.

Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins ran a spectacular race to take fourth on home soil in 2:10:19, a 33-second personal best, but came up just shy of GB’s first-ever medal in this event.

Results, interviews and analysis below.

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We’ve also got a separate story here on American Bobby Curtis (42nd place, 2:21:22), who announced after the race that he will be retiring at the end of the year.

Top 10 results (full results/5k splits here)

1 472 Geoffrey Kipkorir KIRUI KENKEN 2:08:27 SB
2 412 Tamirat TOLA ETHETH 2:09:49
3 540 Alphonce Felix SIMBU TANTAN 2:09:51
4 422 Callum HAWKINS GBRGBR 2:10:17 PB
5 457 Daniele MEUCCI ITAITA 2:10:56 PB
6 471 Gideon Kipkemoi KIPKETER KENKEN 2:10:56
7 395 Yohanes GHEBREGERGIS ERIERI 2:12:07
8 474 Daniel Kinyua WANJIRU KENKEN 2:12:16
9 463 Yuki KAWAUCHI JPNJPN 2:12:19
10 467 Kentaro NAKAMOTO JPNJPN 2:12:41

Quick Take: Geoffrey Kirui is now a full-blown marathon star

Winning the Boston Marathon automatically places you in the discussion of the world’s greatest marathoners, but by dispatching another quality field in London — including another big-time talent in Tamirat Tola — the 24-year-old Kirui absolutely must now be regarded as among the very best in the world. Eliud Kipchoge is in a class of his own, but when it comes championship-style marathons, Kirui is firmly ensconced in tier 2 with guys like Ghirmay Ghebreslassie and Wilson Kipsang. It remains to be seen whether he’s capable of a super fast time in a rabbitted race (his PR is 2:06:27), but put him in a quick race like Tokyo or London and we’d expect him to run at least 2:05.

Kirui said that he felt more prepared for this marathon than he did for his Boston victory as he relocated from his high-altitude base in Keringet (8,800 feet) to the training mecca of Eldoret (7,200 feet), which allowed him to run faster on flatter routes.

As for the race, Kirui said knew that if he went with Tola’s initial move on the final loop that he would not have anything for the finish, so he hung back and bided his time, correctly presuming that Tola would come back to him.

Quick Take: A leg issue caused Tola to run the marathon here instead of the 10k

Tola, the Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, was hurt earlier in the year. The issue meant that he did not feel comfortable wearing spikes, but he could still run okay in flats and as a result elected to go for marathon selection in London rather than the 10k. The decision proved to be a smart one as he was rewarded with a silver medal today, though his leg may have prevented him from winning gold as it began to hurt in the final miles.

(2nd half below, Tola talks of injury and 10k vs marathon)

Quick Take: Alphonce Felix Simbu won a big medal for Tanzania

Simbu was 12th at Worlds in 2015 and 5th at the Olympics last year and today he finally landed on the podium, ending a 12-year drought for Tanzania at the Worlds.

In fact, this was only the second medal, period, for Tanzania, a country of 51 million just south of Kenya, at the World Championships. Christopher Isengwe’s marathon silver in 2005 is the only other in any event, male or female.

“Today we got a bronze medal so we are very happy and I think in Tanzania, all Tanzanian people are very happy because of this medal,” Simbu said. “Always the Kenyans and Ethiopians are always win[ning] so I am very happy to get this medal.”

Quick Take: Callum Hawkins was pleased with the way he ran but disappointed not to medal

Hawkins was hoping for a medal today but knew that to do that, he had to run well and hope some of the African studs did not. The first part of that equation rang true (Hawkins PR’d) and though Hawkins was able to defeat a few of the big ones, he didn’t have quite enough for the bronze, finishing 26 seconds behind third.

“To actually see it as I was finishing was a bit tough,” Hawkins said. “But that’s the way it went. I gave it my all. I couldn’t really ask for anything more [from my] performance. I couldn’t give any more.”

Hawkins had no regrets with how he ran, and knew that if he had tried to go with Tola and Kirui’s big move just after halfway he would not have been as close to a medal as he was.

“If I had went with that, I probably wouldn’t have finished,” Hawkins said. “It was huge. I would have finished, but not as good and I would have been almost walking at the end.”

Quick Take: Elkanah Kibet had far from an ideal race in 16th place

Kibet came into the race on the back of what he described as the best training he’d ever had and he wanted a medal today. That was always going to be hard to do for a 2:11 guy, but the way the race played out did him no favors. Kibet said that he didn’t like the course, feeling that there was too many sharp turns, and he also encountered problems at the aid stations. Kibet expected to see someone holding his bottle for him but on at least one occasion no one was there, forcing him to backtrack in order to retrieve his fluids.

To cap things off, Kibet had to stop to go to the bathroom at 40k, costing him another minute. Taking all that into consideration, for him to still run 2:15:14 and finish 16th was fairly impressive.

Interview with Great Britain’s Josh Griffiths (39th place)

Griffiths, who qualified for Worlds by finishing as the top Brit at the London Marathon despite not starting with the elite field, said that one year ago, he just hoped to be able to watch this race. Today, he ran in it and finished 39th.

“I’ve come a long way in a year and I’m looking forward to see where I can come in another year’s time,” Griffiths said.

Interview with Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru (8th place)

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