By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BERLIN (12-Aug) — Volha Mazuronak of Belarus and Koen Naert were crowned European marathon champions here on the streets of Berlin this morning on the final day of the 24th European Athletics Championships. Under bright skies with start-time temperatures a moderate 16C/60F, Mazuronak, 29, became the first ever Belorussian woman to win a continental title, clocking the third fastest winning time in the history of these championships: 2:26:22. Naert, 28, became the first Belgian winner since Karel Lismont in Helsinki 47 years ago. Naert ran a personal best time and championships record of 2:09:51. There were no repeat medalists from the 2014 edition of these championships in Zürich.
WOMEN LEAD THE WAY
Fifty-six women from 20 countries were entered in this morning’s race, and the field set off at 09:05 on a special criterium course, consisting of four, 10-kilometer loops and one 2.195-kilometer loop. The early pace was honest for a summer championships, with with the first 5-kilometers passing in 17:31 and the second in 17:41. That put the field on pace for a sub-2:29 finish time. Mazuronak was the leader at both of those checkpoints, accompanied by eight more women: Clémence Calvin of France, Eva Vrabcova of the Czech Republic, Maryna Damantsevich and Nastassia Ivanova of Belarus, Sara Dossena and Catherine Bertone of Italy, Martina Strähl of Switzerland and Trihas Gebre of Spain.
Mazuronak, who has a personal best of 2:23:54, looked relaxed at first, wearing a white kerchief on her head adorned with Olympic rings. But before she reached 10 kilometers, the former race walker suffered an explosive nosebleed. Her face quickly became half-covered with blood, which dripped onto her uniform top. She tried multiple times to stanch the blood flow with tissues she was handed from the side of the road, and she repeatedly washed her face with bottled water.
“No fall,” an embarrassed Mazuronak told Race Results Weekly when asked where all of the blood came from. “It was OK. Maybe from the sun?”
Despite the nosebleed, Mazuronak continued to move well and picked up the pace, slightly. She was still the leader at halfway (1:14:00), and the nine-woman lead pack was still intact. The rest of the field remained over 90 seconds back, nearly assuring that the medals would come from this group.
Soon, things started to get difficult at the back of the lead pack. By 25-kilometers, both Bertone and Gebre had been dropped, and by 30-kilometers, both Dossena and Strähl were off the back, too. Dossena, who made a splash at last November’s TCS New York City Marathon where she finished sixth in her debut, was running today’s race on only two months of training after suffering a stress fracture of her left foot during the winter.
“I only had June and July to prepare,” Dossena told Race Results Weekly, pointing at her foot. A former triathlete, she cross-trained to hold on to her fitness. “I was two months off,” she added.
At the front Mazuronak maintained tight control of the pace. She ran the 5-kilometer segment through 30-kilometers in 17:23, then split the next 5-K in a very quick 17:07. That put everyone out of contention except for Calvin, who was making her marathon debut, and Vrabcova. The Czech athlete, three times an Olympian as a cross country skier before taking up the marathon, was surprised that she was still in contention.
“I feel before the race without shape,” she told Race Results Weekly. “Yesterday I was crying (about her lack of fitness).”
At 40-kilometers, the three women were still together, but they were running single file now with Mazuronak on the front. Vrabcova was the first to falter, drifting back about four seconds. She would eventually embrace the bronze medal, lowering her own national record to 2:26:31.
“I can’t believe it!” Vrabcova told Race Results Weekly. “And a national record!”
Calvin, who has 8:53 3000-meter speed and was completely unknown to Mazuronak, was not intimidated by her more experienced rival. She attacked the Belorussian in the 42nd kilometer, moving to the front for a few steps, eliciting a gasp from the big crowd watching at the finish on large-screen monitors. But Mazuronak responded immediately, covered the move, then shot ahead to the finish to claim the gold. Calvin got a well-deserved silver medal in 2:26:28. She held her 16-month old son, Zaccaria, in her arms while she posed for photographers.
“I was counting on the last 195 meters to make my statement, but it wasn’t enough,” Calvin told the French federation media team.
The Italian, Dossena finished sixth in a personal best 2:27:53. “I am happy,” she said, her sunglasses perched on the top of her head.
With Damantsevich and Ivanova finishing fourth and fifth in 2:27:44 and 2:27:49, respectively, the Belorussian team captured the team title in seven hours, 21 minutes and 54 seconds (top-3 finishers per team scored on total time). Italy (7:32:46) got the silver and Spain (7:44:06) the bronze.
Forty-six women finished the race out of 55 starters. Britain’s top-two women failed to finish: Charlotte Purdue (last split 35:18 at 10-K) and Lily Partridge (1:30:06 at 25-K while she was in 15th place).
NAERT SETS CHAMPIONSHIPS RECORD
The men started 55 minutes after the women, and their race unfolded in a totally different fashion. The early pace was slow enough to allow a big pack to form and stay together for the first third of the race. At 15-kilometers, 19 men were still in the leading group which was on a 2:11:16 pace. Switzerland’s Tadesse Abraham was the leader, with Naert, and Italy’s Yassine Rachik right behind him.
“There were so many runners behind me,” Tadesse told European Athletics interviewers. “I wanted to motivate the other runners to also pace sometimes, but they seemed to only look at me. They knew that I was kind of the favorite. So, I had to run my rhythm because I also did not want to lose the race in a final sprint.”
The crucial point in the race came between 30 and 35 kilometers. Seven men remained in contention, and that was too big a group for Naert. He stepped on the gas, blew through that segment in 14:47, and slayed the field with one fell swoop. For good measure, he only slowed slightly through 40-K, running 14:51 for the next 5-kilometer segment, fully a minute faster than his nearest rival.
“I was really nervous before, and during the race, but I knew I had to be very patient,” Naert told European Athletics interviewers wearing his signature headband. “So, I waited until the right moment to move away from the group, and get the lead position. I was feeling particularly strong today, but equally apprehensive. I guess I simply turned all that stress into power and confidence throughout the race.”
From there, Naert could enjoy the remainder of the race, gliding to the finish near the massive Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. He grabbed a Belgian flag from a spectator and held it over his head as he broke the tape. Tears of joy flowed immediately; he was in disbelief.
“It’s really difficult to believe this has happened,” he said. “I knew I could get a medal, but never expected it to be the gold one.”
There was no fight for the silver and bronze positions. Both Tadesse (2:11:24) and Rachik (2:12:09) had space in front and behind them as they ran to the finish.
“I wanted the gold medal, but I am still satisfied,” said Tadesse who celebrated his 36th birthday today. He continued: “I have never raced on my birthday. So this silver medal is my present for my 36th birthday. Nobody has a more beautiful birthday than me today.”
The Italian men earned the team title in six hours, 40 minutes and 48 seconds (Rachik, 2:12:09; Eyob Faniel, 2:12:43; and Stefano La Rosa, 2:15:57).
Some of the pre-race medal favorites were unable to finish. Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen, the European record holder for the marathon, dropped out at 25-kilometers while he was in seventh place. Yared Shegumo of Poland, the silver medalist at these championships in 2014, dropped out after 15-K while he was in 50th place. Philipp Pflieger of Germany only made it to 30-K, and Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands dropped out at 35-K while he was in fourth place.
“I really need to say a big thank you to my family for all the support,” said Naert, who is a registered nurse who specializes in working with burn victims. “This puzzle is my life is finally complete.”