Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa Wins World Championship Marathon to Go With His Boston and NY Crowns – Says Bekele Can Go Sub 2 Hours

By David Monti, @d9monti with quick takes by
October 6, 2019
(c) 2019 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(05-Oct) — Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa ran a flawless marathon tonight on the Corniche in Doha to capture his first global title on the penultimate day of the IAAF World Athletics Championships.  The 29 year-old Ethiopian, twice the Boston Marathon winner and the reigning TCS New York City Marathon champion, became just the second Ethiopian man to win a global marathon crown and became the first man in history to win the Boston, New York City and world championships marathons during a career.

“This is a great medal for me and for Ethiopia,” Desisa told IAAF interviewers after crossing the finish line in 2:10:40.  “It is the first for us for a long time. I am very happy to bring Ethiopia this title after so long.”

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF)

The race played out perfectly for the race-savvy Desisa who performs best in championships-style races where official pacemakers are not permitted.  Throughout the race, which began at 11:59 p.m., he carefully assessed his position and his energy stores and didn’t waste a single step while some of his rivals put in needless surges.

For the first half of the race, Desisa ran well behind the unlikely leader, Derlys Ayala of Paraguay, who had run a marathon just 12 days before in Buenos Aires.  Running alone in a red and white striped uniform, Ayala built up a 62-second lead through 15 kilometers, but the top players for the medals, including Desisa, hardly cared.  A pack of six serious contenders –Desisa, Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea, Geoffrey Kirui and Amos Kipruto of Kenya, Stephen Mokoka of South Africa, and Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia– ran earnestly behind the South American and bided their time.

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By the 20-kilometer point, Ayala’s lead had dwindled to just six seconds, and just before the half-marathon point (1:05:56) Ayala was caught.  He would drop out about two minutes later, just one of 18 athletes from the 73-man field who would fail to finish.

Tadese, five times the world road running/half-marathon champion, did most of the leading from there.  There were a few surges by Tadese and Mokoka, but through 30 kilometers (1:33:13) the pack of six was still intact.  Desisa would sometimes drift back during the surges, but he always regained contact.

“I controlled everybody and I saved my power,” Desisa explained.

Behind the leading six, Britain’s Callum Hawkins was running an excellent second half and was steadily gaining on the leaders.      He was in ninth place at 30-K, but moved up to seventh by 35-K.  Hawkins, who finished fourth in the last world championships marathon in London two years ago, would become a factor later in the race.

Between 30 and 35-K, Kirui began to falter.  He would continue to drift back and eventually finished 14th.  Tadese, who was still on the back of the lead pack at 35-K, was the next to fall out of contention; he would finish sixth.

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia celebrates with Mosinet Geremew (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/ Getty Images for IAAF)

Meanwhile, Hawkins was gaining on the four men remaining in the lead pack –Desisa, Mokoka, Kipruto and Geremew– but he was about 14 seconds down in the 37th kilometer.  That’s the same time that Desisa went to the lead for the first time and began to show his cards.

Just before the 40-kilometer mark (2:04:24), Hawkins caught the lead pack and five men remained in contention.  Hawkins was clearly suffering, but after getting fourth two years ago he was determined to hang on.  The Scotsman had been running his previous kilometers at just over three minutes and had used a lot of energy to catch up.

The 41st kilometer was covered in 2:59, a painful pace when the temperature is 29C with 50% humidity.  Desisa waited another 90 seconds, then launched his bid for victory.

“With one kilometer to go I thought this is like the end of a 10,000m race and I started to push,” Desisa said.

Hawkins quickly fell back, followed by Kipruto.  Geremew hung on as long as he could, but with about 150 meters left, Desisa shifted up to his top gear and Geremew could not respond.  The victory was Desisa’s.

Top Results (more here)
1 Lelisa DESISA ETH 2:10:40 SB
2 Mosinet GEREMEW ETH 2:10:44
3 Amos KIPRUTO KEN 2:10:51
4 Callum HAWKINS GBR 2:10:57
5 Stephen MOKOKA RSA 2:11:09
6 Zersenay TADESE ERI 2:11:29 SB
7 El Hassan EL ABBASSI BRN 2:11:44 SB
8 Hamza SAHLI MAR 2:11:49
9 Tadesse ABRAHAM SUI 2:11:58
10 Daniel MATEO ESP 2:12:15
11 Laban Kipngetich KORIR KEN 2:12:38
12 Yassine RACHIK ITA 2:12:41
13 Fred MUSOBO UGA 2:13:42
14 Geoffrey KIRUI KEN 2:13:54 SB
16 Alphonce Felix SIMBU TAN 2:13:57
17 Tomas Hilifa RAINHOLD NAM 2:14:38
18 Stephen KIPROTICH UGA 2:15:04
19 Paulo Roberto DE ALMEIDA PAULA BRA 2:15:09
20 Shaohui YANG CHN 2:15:17
21 Thonakal GOPI IND 2:15:57
22 Felicien MUHITIRA RWA 2:16:21
23 Ahmed OSMAN USA 2:16:22 SB
24 Weldu Negash GEBRETSADIK NOR 2:16:35
25 Hiroki YAMAGISHI JPN 2:16:43 SB

“I did perfectly what my coaches told me and I won the race,” Desisa explained.  “My country is happy and my family.”

Geremew (2:10:44) and Kipruto (2:10:51) won silver and bronze, respectively.  Hawkins finished fourth in 2:10:57, and despite his disappointment was philosophical about his race.

“The three guys that got medals are proper world class,” he told reporters in the mixed zone.  He continued: “To be that close to the big guns on a championships really helps.”

Desisa is scheduled to defend his title at the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 3, which he may have to do on tired legs.  However, winning a world title was important to him.

“Finally, I can bring home a gold medal,” he said.  “It is important for my country.”

Analysis by

Quick Take: Lelisa Desisa is a machine

Outside of Eliud Kipchoge, to whom the normal rules of marathoning don’t seem to apply, Desisa is as consistent as they come in the marathon. He has finished 13 marathons since making his debut in 2013 — all of them either World Marathon Majors or Dubai — and has finished in the top three in 12 of them (and top two in 10 of them). He does have three DNF’s sprinkled in there (though one was 2018 Boston), but that is a remarkable record considering the level of competition he has faced.

To be honest, we were surprised Desisa even finished this race. None of the three Ethiopian women in Doha finished the marathon, and Desisa is slated to run New York in just four weeks’ time. But he not only ran, he won, and after the race he confirmed that he will return to New York in November to defend his title.

Quick Take: Lelisa Desisa says Bekele can go sub-2:00 in the marathon

LRC asked Desisa what he thought of Kenenisa Bekele running so fast in Berlin last weekend, 2:01:41. Desisa said they had been training together. “He is back to being a great champion. I think he is happy for me. I’m happy for him. Next, he break sub-2.”

LRC was shocked Desisa said that about Bekele, and thought he might be talking about Kipchoge, but he was not. Then we asked if he could break 2:00 as well and Desisa said, “I am the same to him (in training). “

Desisa says he still is planning on doing NYC next month and will be fine after 1 week of training. It was pretty funny when Desisa started running in place to show he’d be fine. It’s at the 1:25 mark in the video below.

Discuss: Desisa Says Bekele can Go Sub 2

Quick Take: This race had far better conditions than the women’s marathon

The women’s marathon on the opening day of these championships felt like a death march. At the start of that race, the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a dewpoint of 80. Halfway through tonight’s race, the temperature was only six degrees lower, but the dewpoint was just 58 degrees.

We were out on the course for the second half of the race and can attest that it felt significantly cooler — downright pleasant, even — than the women’s race eight days ago. It was still warm for marathoning, but the 2:10 winning time was pretty typical for a championship marathon.

As a result, many of the athletes whose season had concluded were out to cheer on their compatriots, even though the race didn’t finish until after 2 a.m. Conseslus Kipruto, Emmanuel Korir, Ryan Gregson, and Jessica Hull were just some of the stars we saw spectating. Even Laura Muir made an appearance after running the 1500 final earlier in the night.

Quick Take: Mosinet Geremew second for the third straight marathon

Geremew ran 2:04:00 to set the course record (since broken) in Dubai last year and has run three marathons since. He has finished second in all three of them: to Mo Farah in Chicago last year, to Kipchoge in London in April, and to Desisa tonight. Not a bad trio to finish behind, but Geremew, one of only two men to run 2:02 and lose in a marathon, is still waiting for his first World Marathon Majors victory.

Quick Take: Callum Hawkins just misses a medal (again)

Two years ago in London, Hawkins finished 4th, just 16 seconds shy of a medal, and though he closed the gap to the podium tonight (six seconds), he was an unlucky 4th once again. 

“To be even closer than last time, it’s gutting,” Hawkins said. “I really want that medal, and that’s what I train for. But it wasn’t to be on the night.”

Hawkins, who said he prepared for this race by running at 10 p.m. each night along the Corniche to get adjusted to the late start, was just 9th with 9k to go, but he methodically worked his way up the field until catching the lead pack by 40k. Unfortunately for Hawkins, he was too exhausted to make another move on top of that; his only hope was that none of the leading trio had a move up their sleeves. It turns out that they did. 

“When I caught them, I knew I didn’t have a kick,” Hawkins said. “I knew, this is the pace I’ve got.”

QT: Americans finish 23th, 38th, and 46th

Ahmed Osman led the American men with a 23rd-place finish in 2:16.22. A pretty good run considering the conditions. Elkanah Kibet was the second American in 38th in 2:19:33 and Andrew Epperson rounded out the team in 2:23:11 in 46th.

The only American we got to speak to was Kibet (Osman walked behind Kibet as we were talking to him). Elkanah said he threw up the final miles of the course and had a difficult buildup as he was in officer training school in the Army for much of the summer. That only ended at the end of August, so his proper build-up was limited to one month for this race. He turns his sights on the Olympic Marathon Trials and said his Army obligations should not prevent him from doing a proper build-up.

More discussion: Lelisa Desisa says Bekele can go sub 2 in the marathon: “Next he break sub 2:00”
*Worlds Day 9 Thread

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