In the end, as he approached the finishing curve in the sunbathed Heroes’ Square, Victor Kiplangat could afford to snatch his national flag and savour his golden moment at the end of the men’s marathon on the morning of the final day of action at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
For the second time in Budapest, Uganda had a world-beating hero to acclaim, Joshua Cheptegei having claimed the men’s 10,000m crown on the track on day two. Add in Jacob Kiplimo’s victory at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst in February, and the former third force of East African distance running could celebrate a hattrick of global successes in 2023.
Kiplangat hit the gold standard on the international scene at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year. Twelve months on, inspired by Kiplimo, the 23-year-old proved a class apart from the rest of the world, breaking clear from Ethiopia’s Leul Gebresilase with 3km to go and crossing the line in 2:08:53.
The winning margin was 26 seconds and it was Israel’s Maru Teferi who claimed the silver, overtaking the tiring Gebresilase on the finishing curve to finish runner up in 2:09:12. In doing so, the 31-year-old – who was outsprinted for European gold by Germany’s Richard Ringer in Munich last year – was rewarded for a turbo-charged recovery after suffering a spectacular fall with 10km to go.
Gebresilase had to settle for bronze in 2:09:19, a disappointment for Ethiopia, who finished first and second in Doha in 2019 and in Oregon last year. His teammate Tamarit Tola, the decisive winner on the Oregon trail, was in the hunt until fading at 33km and eventually dropping out.
After Gebresilase came Lesotho’s Tebello Ramakongoana, fourth in a PB 2:09:57, and then Kiplangat’s Ugandan teammate Stephen Kissa, who recovered from a fall of his own to finish fifth in 2:10:22.
“This has been my dream and it has come true at last,” said Kiplangat, the second Ugandan to take the title, following Stephen Kiprotich’s success in Moscow in 2013.
“Last year I was Commonwealth Games champion and that made me think this year I must become world champion. Now my prayers have been answered and hopefully next year in Paris I will become Olympic champion too.
“It was hard today because it was so hot but I felt comfortable because I prepared well for this weather. I knew it was possible because I had trained well. It was a dream and a mission and I did it today.
“When I reached 30km I knew I felt strong and decided to push. I had great energy and that allowed me to go. Then at 35km I could surge again. That was always my plan and I managed to do it.
“I need to thank Jacob Kiplimo. He has given me a lot of motivation and inspired me with his performances. I am so grateful as well for his advice and guidance. Without that, I couldn’t have won today.”
Without picking himself up so smartly, and moving directly into overdrive, the terrific Teferi would not have claimed a silver medal lining.
“I am glad I managed to fulfil my dream,” he said. “I fell down and tore my vest but I tried to move on to finish the race in the best possible condition.”
At the start of the race, Ser-Od Bat-Ochir set out like a bat out of hell. The 41-year-old Mongolian powered through the opening 1km in 2:57 and hit 3km in 8:55, 2:05 pace, building up a lead of 27 seconds.
The most experienced campaigner in the 83-man field, Bat-Ochir was competing in his 11th straight World Championships marathon, his debut having come in Paris when he was a sprightly 21-year-old back in 2003.
With a highest placing of 19th, in Daegu in 2011, and having finished 26th in Oregon a year ago, Bat-Ochir was never going to maintain his punishing early pace. His lifetime best of 2:08:50 dates back to 2014, his best this year being a more modest 2:24:46.
His determination could not be doubted. To acclimatise to cooler conditions for the Olympic marathon in London in 2012, he moved his family to the north-east of England for a year, training at Morpeth Harriers with some guidance from the great Jim Alder, winner of the Commonwealth Games marathon in 1966 and holder of the world track best for two hours since 1964.
Bat-Ochir kept his foot on the gas for a little while yet, passing 5km in 14:59, 35 seconds clear of Tola. Thereafter, however, the pace started to take its toll.
By 8km, his lead was down to 15 seconds and just past 9km he was swallowed by the pack of major players, with Kenya’s Timothy Kiplagat in the vanguard. Second in Rotterdam in April, the Kenyan led through 10km with a three-second advantage, but chose not to push on.
Bat-Ochir started to pay the price for his bold effort. After passing 10km, he ground to a halt, clutching his right hamstring, stretching it out and starting again. Not that he was going to do a Sifan Hassan. After another couple of stops and re-starts, he hobbled off the course for good at 12km.
Meanwhile, back at the sharp end, Kenya’s Joshua Belet led through 15km in 46:09, upping the pace to match Bat-Ochir’s opening kilometre split of 2:57.
There were 30 men still in the lead pack at halfway, with Rwanda’s John Hakizimana at the front in 1:05:02. A surge from Kiplangat at a drinks station, however, succeeded in splintering the group.
Approaching 30km, Kiplangat injected a 2:54 split, drawing Tola towards the front for the first time.
The pack was down to six approaching Heroes’ Square for the penultimate time, then five when Kissa tripped and fell after clipping Kiplangat’s heels.
Then it was down to three: Kiplangat, Tola and Gebresilase. The Ugandan kept his foot down and just after 33km Tola started to drop.
After a split of 2:49, the fastest of the race, it was Kiplangat vs Gebresilase, Tola fading out of contention.
Kiplangat hammered away at the front, Gebresilase in his immediate slipstream, until the pressure finally told with 3km remaining. The Commonwealth Games champion opened a gap that swiftly grew into an unassailable one and Teferi also passed Gebresilase in the closing stages to secure the silver.
Uganda’s global distance running hattrick was securely in the bag.
|MEN’S MARATHON MEDALLISTS
|Victor Kiplangat 🇺🇬 UGA
|Maru Teferi 🇮🇱 ISR
|Leul Gebresilase 🇪🇹 ETH
Credit: World Athletics