Two dramatic races brought Series IX of the Abbott World Marathon Majors to a thrilling finale at the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday (Feb 28) as Feyisa Lilesa denied Dickson Chumba a share of the half million dollar men's prize while Helah Kiprop smashed the course record to join Mary Keitany and Mare Dibabe at the top of the women's leaderboard.
Chumba needed to regain the Tokyo Marathon title he won two years ago to join fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge on 50 points and was within sight of that goal with a mile to go in the 26.2-mile struggle when his resolve finally cracked and his Ethiopian rival coasted to victory in 2:06:56, more than a minute shy of Chumba's course record.
The pair had been locked together from the start, striding through the halfway mark with six more of the world's best marathon runners, including two-time world marathon champion Abel Kirui, former Virgin Money London Marathon champion Emmanuel Mutai and reigning Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich.
The surprising presence of Japan's Kenta Murayama gave the Tokyo crowd much to cheer in the early stages, but the brave 23-year-old debutant fell away in the second half as seven top Africans reached 30km in 1:29:50.
As the pacemakers dropped out with just 12km left, Chumba made his bid for glory with a bold move, charging to the front and clear of the pack. Only Lilesa could match him and these two raced shoulder-to-shoulder for the next 10km, first one gaining a meter's lead, then the other.
The pair looked set to battle it out all the way to the line until Chumba broke and Lilesa rapidly opened a winning gap, gaining enough time to flex his biceps at the crowd in celebration as he approached the tape.
Chumba's efforts proved too much and he was caught just before the line by compatriot Bernard Kipyego who claimed second in 2:07:33 while Chumba had to settle for third for the second successive year in 2:07:34.
Lilesa has a World Championships bronze medal from 2011, was third at the BMW BERLIN Marathon last September and has twice finished on the podium at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, but this was his first Abbott World Marathon Majors victory in a nine-year marathon career.
With 25 points for his Tokyo win, he finished Series IX in joint second place in the standings on 34, level with Chumba, but 16 behind outright winner Kipchoge, last year's London and Berlin marathon champion.
If Chumba's hopes were dashed at the death, fellow Kenyan Helah Kiprop did everything she could to realize her own in the women's contest.
KIprop took more than two and a half minutes from her personal best to break the tape in 2:21:27, shaving almost a minute from Tirfi Tsegaye's course record to move level with New York champion Keitany and world champion Dibaba on 41 points in the Abbott WMM standings.
She started as one of three women hoping to gain a share of the winner's prize, the other's being Ethiopians Aberu Kebede and Birhane Dibaba. But they were out of the running in fourth and fifth respectively as Kiprop took victory in 2:21:27, 24 seconds ahead of another Ethiopian Amane Gobena who was also inside the old course record. Two-times world champion Edna Kiplagat was third in 2:22:36.
Kiprop made her move after 35km which four women passed together in 1:57:08, including Gobena, Kiplagat and Kebede. The Kenyan was second in Tokyo last year, but she wasn't going to let this opportunity slip by. She kicked in a 16:39 split to 40km, the second fastest of the race, to throw off her challengers and cruised home for her first AbbottWMM win.
Her victory ends an impressive 12 months for the 30-year-old who set her previous personal best as Tokyo runner-up in 2015 and missed out on World Championships gold by just one second in Beijing last August.