(27-Sep) -- In a race which required as much waiting as it did running, Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich conquered both the heat and humidity of Doha and 67 other women to become the 2019 World Athletics Championships women's marathon champion. Her time of 2:32:43 may have been the slowest winning time in the 17 editions of these championships, but that fact did nothing to tarnish her gold medal. With her victory tonight --actually in the wee hours of Saturday morning-- Chepngetich joined Catherine Ndereba and Edna Kiplagat in an elite club of just three Kenyan women who have won world marathon titles (Ndereba and Kiplagat both have two).
PHOTO: Ruth Chepngetich wins the 2019 World Athletics Championships women's marathon in Doha, Qatar, in 2:32:43 (© Getty Images for IAAF)
The silver medal went to Rose Chelimo, a Kenyan-born athlete who represents Bahrain and who had won the 2017 world title. She finished more than a minute behind in 2:33:46. Reigning Commonwealth Games marathon champion Helalia Johannes of Namibia finished third in 2:34:15. She became the first Namibian woman to win a world championships marathon medal.
Not surprisingly, the race started cautiously at 23:59 local time with the start-time temperature at nearly 33F/92F accompanied by soaking humidity. At the 5-K mark (18:21) fully 24 women were within 5 seconds of the nominal leader, Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel. The leaders were on pace for a 2:35 finish time on the six-lap course which used a 7-kilometer loop on The Corniche lit by giant light towers constructed specially for this event.
After 10-K was passed in 36:44, Chepngetich made the first major move of the race. She scooted through the 11th kilometer in 3:13, and by 15-K (54:01) only five women remained in contention: Chepngetich, Chelimo, Johannes, Edna Kiplagat and Visiline Jepkesho. Salpeter was 55-seconds back in sixth position.
For the next 10 kilometers the five women stayed together surveying each other's form. Nobody wanted to make a move and waste valuable energy.
Behind them, the heat and humidity was wreaking havoc on the rest of the field. Athletes dropped out by the dozens, including the entire Ethiopian team of Ruti Aga, Shure Demise and Roza Dereje. Italy's Sara Dossena stopped, felt sick, then crumpled to the pavement and was briefly unconscious.
"She fainted right in front of me," said her manager Marcello Magnani in a voice message left at the Race Results Weekly office.
By the 25-K mark (1:31:01) Jepkesho had fallen off the pace (she would eventually finish 15th). Chepngetich, Chelimo, Johannes and Kiplagat clung to each other like castaways in a lifeboat unsure of what to do next.
Just past the 35-K mark Chepngetich surged, angling to the right towards a refreshment station. She grabbed her bottle, took a sip, and hit the gas. Running 3:19 for the 36th kilometer, she put her rivals away with one big move, then ran unchallenged to the finish where she would win the first gold medal awarded at these championships.
Chelimo couldn't get close to Chepngetich, but easily got away from Johannes and Kiplagat. Johannes, in turn, was able to shake off Kiplagat and take sole possession of third place. Kiplagat --who had finished first, first, fifth and second in her previous four world championships-- had to settle for fourth. Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, the reigning European champion, finished fifth in 2:36:21, and Roberta Groner of the United States, a 41 year-old full-time nurse from New Jersey, finished a shocking sixth in 2:38:44.
Chepngetich, just 25, now possesses both the fastest time in the world this year (2:17:08) and the world title.
Only 40 women finished the race compared to 78 in London two years ago.