High Hopes melt into nothing
The South African marathon team’s medal hopes and expectations melted in to nothing on the streets of Osaka where Kenyan Luke Kibet was crowned World Champion after a slow but tactical race run in hot and humid conditions.
A pedestrian early pace saw all five South Africans at the fore and the field going through 3km in 10 minutes. As the pace gradually increased no one was allowed to take the lead with all moves immediately covered. Although half way was passed in 68 minutes 29 seconds only Hendrick Ramaala and Norman Dlomo from the SA squad remained in contact, but neither looked particularly comfortable.
“I was struggling for air at half way – I just didn’t know what was happing” said Ramaala who found himself back at the front as the pace slowed around 22km.
By that stage George Mofokeng had dropped to 36th, Two Oceans winner Bethuel Netshifhefhe was in 62nd and Zongamele Dyubeni was already out of the race.
Starting up the short sharp climb to the Osaka castle plateau, William Kiplagat and Kibet put in a burst, which was quickly matched, but a series of surges through the Castle grounds put Kibet, Kiplagat, Yared Asmeron, and Qatar’s Mubarak Hassan Shami in control, with only Switzerlands Victor Rothlin and Eritrean Yared Asmerom hanging on to their tails.
Kibet made the running, pushing through 30 kilometres in 96:56 to open a significant lead with Kiplagat following in his wake. The five kilometres around the castle took 15 minutes 44 seconds, the fastest split of the race.
With 8km left, Shami, moved away from Asmerom and accounted Kipligat, who was fading.
Kibet, who had secured a comfortable lead, maintained his pace to take the honours in 2:15:59, the slowest winning time in championship history.
Rothlin’s paced his race perfectly, edging out Asmerom in the final kilometres to take the bronze.
In a reflection of the 29 degree heat with 65% humidity only 57 of the 94 starters finished the race. Ramaala and Mofokeng slid back through the field to finish in 2:26:00 and 2:40:22 respectively for 27th and 53rd position.
Both Dlomo and Netshifhefhe withdrew after 30km preventing South Africa from scoring in the team competition.
“The last 5km were something else – I had to convince myself not to get into the bus – I just couldn’t face that,” said Ramaala recalling the situation in Helsinki in 2005 where all five South Africans failed to finish, and Ramaala withdrew less than two kilometres from the end.
“The team trained so hard in Beijing.. Its just not coming together on the big day. – We really trained hard and came into this race with high hopes – I felt it was a given that we would get a team medal.. When Norman fell of the pace the chances of a medal just disappeared We trained so hard I just cant believe we didn’t run under 2:15 – we obviously aimed to fast – too ambitious – I really don’t know what we are going to say to people back in South Africa. I really don’t know what to tell them” continued a distressed Ramaala, who started to review his opinion of next years Olympics. “Beijing is going to be even tougher. We are going to have to go back and plan again. It’s not just the heat and humidity but also the pollution there, we need to rethink things”
They could do worse than study the tactics of the Japanese quartet who ran in two groups comfortably off the pace and slowly improving their team position from seventh at 5km to first at 30km. In direct contrast the South African quintet headed the table at 5km, but failed to place where it counts, at the finish line.
Having bided their time in the first two thirds of the race, Tsuyoshi Ogata, Satoshi Osaki, and Toshinari Suwa picked off the tired and wounded over the final third to finish fifth sixth and seventh, each in a seasons best performance, with Tomoyuki Sato completing their squad in 13th
The marathoners return to South Africa on Wednesday.