Birhanu Legese collected his first Abbott World Marathon Majors victory in a rain-sodden Tokyo Marathon with an impressive 2:04:48.
The win catapults him into a share of the lead in Series XII, drawing level with Eliud Kipchoge, Mo Farah and Lelisa Desisa on 25 points.
There was plenty of pre-race optimism that today could have seen a Japanese winner in the men’s race following Suguru Osako’s impressive national record at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October. But the 27-year-old had a bad day at the office and pulled out early in the contest.
It cleared the field for a three-way fight between last year’s champion Dickson Chumba, his fellow Kenyan Bedan Karoki and the Ethiopian Legese.
At halfway there was nothing between the trio, but as they continued to battle through the elements Legese began to look the stronger athlete.
Chumba cracked at the 30km point as the pacemakers made way, and Karoki gradually began to struggle with the pace Legese was setting.
By 35km, Legese had clear water and, as he made the turn with the grandeur of Tokyo Station in the background, he was on his way to clocking the first sub-2:05 marathon ever run in the month of March.
This was Legese’s third tilt at the marathon distance, having run 2:04:15 in Dubai in 2018 but labouring to 10th in Chicago in October of the same year.
His compatriot Ruti Aga made it an Ethiopian double as she finally broke her AbbottWMM duck to claim victory.
Aga lived up to her billing as the fastest woman in the field on paper, playing the waiting game until the 35km mark before throwing down the gauntlet to her rivals and upping the pace. By 40km she had an eight-second lead and her final winning margin was over 20 seconds.
Her time of 2:20:40 was some way outside her personal best of 2:18:34, but it was enough to make her the clear leader in the Series XII women’s leaderboard with 41 points.
Mary Keitany claimed the crown in Series XI with the same points total as Aga has now, but the Ethiopian could still return to Berlin for the series finale to try and go one better than her second place in 2018 and achieve the maximum 50 points, which puts the ball back in Keitany’s court ahead of her appearance in the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.
Before that, the Series rolls into Boston where the likes of Edna Kiplagat and Aselefech Mergia will be looking to run their way into the argument at the top of the women’s leaderboard.
On the men’s side, TCS New York City 2018 champion Lelisa Desisa will be in Boston hunting a second series XII win which would see him strike out on his own at the top of the men’s standings.
Women’s Top 10
1. Ruti Aga ETH 2:20:40
2. Helen Tola ETH 2:21:01
3. Shure Demise ETH 2:21:05
4. Florence Kiplagat KEN 2:21:50
5. Bedatu Hirpa ETH 2:23:43
6. Ababel Yeshaneh ETH 2:24:02
7. Mao Ichiyama JPN 2:24:33
8. Joan Chelimo Melly KEN 2:26:24
9. Rose Chelimo BRN 2:30:35
10. Ruth Chebitok KEN 2:31:19
Men’s Top 10
1. Birhanu Legese ETH 2:04:48
2. Bedan Karoki KEN 2:06:48
3. Dickson Chumba KEN 2:08:44
4. Kariuki Simon KEN 2:09:41
5. Kensuke Horio JPN 2:10:21
6. Masato Imai JPN 2:10:30
7. Takuya Fujikawa JPN 2:10:35
8. Daichi Kamino JPN 2:11:05
9. Ryu Takaku JPN 2:11:49
10. Tadashi Isshiki JPN 2:12:21