BEIJING (23-Aug) -- With a strong second half, and an even stronger last kilometer, Bai Xue won China's first ever marathon gold medal at an IAAF World Championships here today. The 21 year-old, who was the 2007 and 2008 Chinese 10,000m champion, clocked 2:25:15 as she ran through the Brandenburg Gate the final of four times to get her victory.
"This was my first time to take part in a world championships and only second time to take part in an international marathon," Bai told reporters after the race. "I am very happy to be the champion."
Bai stayed close to Russian Nailiya Yulamanova when she put in the race's most important sustained surge, covering the 5 km to 35-K in 16:31. The Russian was able to shake everyone except Japan's Yoshimi Ozaki and Ethiopia's Aselefech Mergia. Race favorite and last summer's Olympic bronze medalist Zhou Chunxiu was trying to hang on a little ways back and American Kara Goucher drifted off the pace.
Yulamanova eventually paid the price for her hard pace. Just before 35 km, she slowed markedly, pressing her fingers to her ribcage, the classic sign of a stitch. That left Bai, Ozaki and Mergia to battle for the medals.
Ozaki had the extra pressure of trying to salvage Japan's pride and bring home at least one medal from these championships. The island nation had yet to win a medal.
"During the race I kept my rhythm," she said. "Surprisingly, I was able to run very relaxed and easy until 30 kilometers."
Because the marathon here did not finish in the stadium, the run-in to the finish line on the grand boulevard Unter den Linden made for a completely straight path for the final kilometer. When Bai hit the 41-K mark, she pushed hard, dropping Ozaki. She sailed to the line from there.
"When I came her I did not think at all that I could win the gold medal," she said. "My only aim was to show a good performance and to do well in the World Cup with the team. My next aim is to win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics."
Ozaki held on for the silver in 2:25:25 and, like Reiko Tosa in Osaka in 2007, it was the Japanese marathon women who delivered the country's only championships medal.
"Before the start I was hoping for top-8," said Ozaki who won the final Tokyo International Women's Marathon in 2008. "As the race progressed with all the people getting off or getting behind me I saw that it was not easy for the others. So then I knew, now I can get a medal."
Mergia was able to hold off Zhou and take the bronze in 2:25:32.
China also won the IAAF Marathon World Cup by posting the lowest total time for three women (7:1702). Japan got the silver (7:22:15) and Russia the Bronze (7:24:42).
For Goucher it was a disappointing day. Bothered by stomach problems, she finished tenth in 2:27:48, just five seconds ahead of teammate Desiree Davila who came from behind.
"I had a lot of problems keeping my fluids down," she said. "After the second personal fluid station, I started throwing up what I took in. I would start taking it, then a mile later, I'd throw up." She added: "When the field made their break, my body wouldn't go."