A four-woman race after just a kilometre, by the halfway point it was down to a duel. Not long after that, Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech Daniel was cruising all alone to victory in the Saitama International Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (13).
Cheyech pulled away from an ailing Ethiopian Amane Gobena after 25 kilometres to win in a race record of 2:23:18 for her sixth career title and first in Japan, where she spent four years from 2007 running for the Uniqlo corporate team.
“Today I’m very happy to win here as Japan is my second home,” said the 34-year-old Cheyech.
Gobena, affected by an upset stomach, held on to finish second in 2:25:58 in the second edition of the race in this city 30 kilometres northwest of Tokyo. Kenya’s Monica Jepkoech was third in 2:28:56 and Ethiopian Atsede Habtamu fourth in 2:29:44.
Mizuho Nasukawa was the top finisher among a thin Japanese contingent, winning a last-stretch dash with Australia’s Cassie Fien for fifth place in 2:33:16, a time that will hardly be good enough to earn a place on Japan’s team for the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
For Cheyech, the victory ended a marathon title drought dating back to her gold-medal run at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Her winning time was also the fastest since she posted her personal best of 2:22:44 in winning the Paris Marathon that same year.
“I have not won a marathon and not run such a time [for a while], so I’m very happy,” said Cheyech, who finished fifth in Tokyo and second in Amsterdam in 2015, and sixth in Boston earlier this year. “I prepared for this race for about five months.”
After Ethiopia’s Atsede Baysa won last year’s inaugural race in 2:25:44, organisers tweaked the course to eliminate some of the tougher hills. But they left enough to Cheyech’s liking.
“This course was very nice,” she said. “As I’m used to when I train in Kenya, we always use up-and-downs most of the time.”
In adding to her career victories in Porto Alegre, Vienna, Toronto, Paris and the Commonwealth Games, Cheyech also got a boost from her former team and friends in the host country, with whom she had a chance to renew acquaintances.