By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BUDAPEST (27-Aug) -- Ten years after Stephen Kiprotich became the first Ugandan to become a world marathon champion, Victor Kiplangat repeated that feat here today in Heroes' Square. The 23 year-old Kiplangat, who won the Commonwealth Games marathon title one year ago, ran a savvy race capped by a strong close and crossed the finish line in 2:08:53, a solid time given the hot, humid and sunny conditions. He gave Uganda their second gold medal at these championships after Joshua Cheptegei's 10,000m win last Sunday.
"The day was actually good for me; the day was my day," a serious and soft-spoken Kiplangat told reporters right after the race. "God has favored me. This is the dream I have been dreaming." He added: "I really thank God that he gave me this opportunity to win this gold medal today."
Ten years ago on a similarly hot day in Moscow, Kiprotich beat two Ethiopians --Lelisa Desisa and Tadese Tola-- to get the gold medal. When asked how important it was to him for a Ugandan man to once again be a world marathon champion, Kiplangat's face lit up.
"It means a lot to me that the restoration has come to Uganda," Kiplangat said. "Because it has been my dream that one day I would dominate this race the way that I did it last year (at the Commonwealth Games), believing that even this year I could do something to become a world champion."
Kiplangat, who only began his marathon career in 2021 and who has a career best time of 2:05:09, kept himself near the front of today's race at all times, and did not waste any energy with unnecessary surges. Ignoring an impetuous move by Mongolia's Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, who shot up the road at 2:06 pace in the first five kilometers, Kiplangat instead glided along with the main pack. He kept his eyes on the strong Ethiopian team, led by defending champion Tamirat Tola and 2:04 man Leul Gebresilase.
"I was worried of these Ethiopians," Kiplangat explained. "(But), I realized that when you prepare well and be disciplined and you focus... my focus was to win the gold medal today."
Just before 10-K (30:25), the main pack swept past Bat-Ochir who, sadly, dropped out of what was his 11th World Athletics Championships marathon (he was seen on the side of the course rubbing his right hamstring). Kiplangat was just one of 15 men who were within four seconds of the race leader, Kenya's Timothy Kiplagat. Kiplangat was one of three Ugandans in the lead pack which also included Stephen Kissa and Andrew Rotich Kwemoi.
The race settled down after that point, and nobody wanted to push the pace. The next three, 5-kilometer segments were covered in pedestrian times of 15:35, 15:27, and 15:31 (halfway in 1:05:02). The pace was so gentle by current standards that 20 men were still within three seconds of the nominal leader, Italy's Yohanes Chiappinelli, at the 25-K mark.
Things picked up a bit in the next 5 kilometers thanks to a surge put in by Kenya's Kiplagat. The leaders ran from 25 to 30-K in 15:08, effectively priming the pump for the faster running which would happen soon.
In the 32nd kilometer Kiplangat put in a surge to break up the race. He ran 2:53 for that kilometer, and suddenly three men were away: Kiplangat and Ethiopia's Tola and Gebresilase. Kenya's Kiplagat was three seconds back with Israel's Maru Teferi. Teferi, who emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia when he was just 15, was definitely a medal contender. He was the silver medalist at last summer's European Athletics Championships and was the 2022 Fukuoka Marathon champion.
Coming out of the start/finish area to run the final 10-kilometer loop, the three leaders had a seven-second advantage over the field. Kissa, who had tangled feet with Kiplagat a few moments earlier and fell to the pavement, was trying to battle back and was running in seventh place in the 33rd kilometer.
The next 5-kilometer split, from 30 to 35-K, went at 14:40, the fastest of the race. That was too fast for Tola, who drifted behind Kiplangat and Gebresilase and now had to worry about the athletes running behind him. Teferi, whose crisp stride showed no signs of fatigue, overhauled Tola just past the 37-K mark (like Kissa, Teferi had also tripped and fallen). He now had sole possession of third place and the bronze medal seemed to be his.
Up the road, Kiplangat dropped Gebresilase on the Buda side of the Danube. By the 40-K mark (2:01:52) Kiplangat had a 13-second lead on the Ethiopian thanks to a 14:59 5-kilometer split. At that point the medals seemed sorted.
But Teferi had other ideas. He was 31 seconds behind Gebresilase at the 40-K mark, but two kilometers later he was only four seconds behind the Ethiopian, who was clearly struggling. On the orange carpet in the start/finish area, Teferi made the sweeping left-hand U-turn at full speed and blew past Gebresilase just 100 meters from the finish to clinch the silver medal in 2:09:12. Gebresilase shuffled in to collect the bronze in 2:09:19. Tola, who had hoped to defend his title and win his third World Championships marathon medal, recorded his last split at 38-K then dropped out.
"I fell (with 10 kilometers to go)," Teferi told Race Results Weekly through a translator wrapped in an Israeli flag. "I blocked it out and I concentrated because I had a plan." He added: "I am elated to represent my country on such a big stage and win a medal."
Fourth place went to unheralded Tebello Ramakongoana of Lesotho who was way back in 32nd place at the halfway mark. Ramakongoana, who is coached remotely by the American James McKirdy from Flagstaff, Ariz., steadily moved up during the second half and recorded a personal best 2:09:57 (he ran the second half in 64:48).
"He started coaching me last year," Ramakongoana told Race Results Weekly. "I meet him last year in Eugene." He added: "I feel very happy. I'm proud of my coach. I'm speechless; I don't know how to say."
The best performance from a USA athlete came from 28 year-old Zach Panning, part of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Mich. Panning was all the way back in 39th place at halfway (1:05:25) but only slowed marginally in the second half to record a 2:11:21 finish time, good for 13th place.
"They're some of the best teachers of running your own race," Panning said of his coaches, Keith and Kevin Hanson. "And that's kind of what I did. The plan was, I thought at the fastest I could probably run maybe 3:04's per K and try to close off of that. I probably averaged 3:05 to 3:08 in the first half. I had enough in the tank that people were fading a little more than I was. So, it worked out."
The other two Americans, Elkanah Kibet and Nico Montanez, had rough days. Kibet, who was part of the lead group for the first half of the race, dropped out. Montanez suffered through the second half and finished in 2:24:58.
"It's a tough sport, it's a humbling sport," said Montanez, who is coached by Andrew Kastor of the Asics Mammoth Track Club. "I'm just thankful I'm finished."