By David Monti with Ken Nakamura
He may only be 158 centimeters (5'-2") and 50 kilos (110 lbs.), but Tsegaye Kebede is rapidly becoming marathoning's Little Big Man.
The 22 year-old Ethiopian capped off an excellent 2009 season with his second consecutive victory at the Fukuoka Marathon today in Japan, breaking his own course record by two seconds, and running a career best time of 2 hours, 5 minutes and 18 seconds. He won the race by about two and one-half minutes.
"I am very happy to run faster than expected," Kebede said in his post-race television interview. "I don't know how to describe my happiness in words."
In addition to his Fukuoka victory today, Kebede also finished second at London last April (2:05:20), and earned the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships Marathon in Berlin last August (2:08:35). He must now be considered one of the world's top marathoners, in the same class as Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru and Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, both of whom won two top-class marathons this year in fast times.
In Fukuoka Kebede followed the pack and the pacing of Kenyan John Kales and Tanzanian Samson Ramadhani through the first half in a somewhat conservative 1:03:05. He stayed with the pacers through 25 km, before he took complete ownership of the race.
"I was convinced of my win after 30 kilometers when I started to run away from my competition," Kebede explained. "I also knew that I had a chance for a personal best when I passed the 40-kilometer point much faster (1:59:01) than last year when I think I passed 40 km in 1:59:45."
Although well behind Kebede, second place Tekeste Kebede (no relation) also set a personal best of 2:07:52. Ukrainian Dmytro Baranovskyy, who won the race in 2005, finished third in 2:08:19. The man who was expected to be Kebede's biggest rival, Kenya's Evans Cheruiyot, finished a distant fifth in 2:09:46. Debutant Mekubo Mogusu of Kenya fell off of the pace just before 25 km, and was forced to drop out after walking at 30 km.
While a number of good quality marathons remain in 2009, the best is Honolulu's next Sunday which has it's best field ever, led by Kenyans' Patrick Ivuti and Margaret Okayo.