(05-Oct) -- Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa ran a flawless marathon tonight on the Corniche in Doha to capture his first global title on the penultimate day of the IAAF World Athletics Championships. The 29 year-old Ethiopian, twice the Boston Marathon winner and the reigning TCS New York City Marathon champion, became just the second Ethiopian man to win a global marathon crown and became the first man in history to win the Boston, New York City and world championships marathons during a career.
PHOTO:Lelisa Desisa winning the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships marathon in Doha, Qatar (photo by Getty Images for IAAF; used with permission)
"This is a great medal for me and for Ethiopia," Desisa told IAAF interviewers after crossing the finish line in 2:10:40. "It is the first for us for a long time. I am very happy to bring Ethiopia this title after so long."
The race played out perfectly for the race-savvy Desisa who performs best in championships-style races where official pacemakers are not permitted. Throughout the race, which began at 11:59 p.m., he carefully assessed his position and his energy stores and didn't waste a single step while some of his rivals put in needless surges.
For the first half of the race, Desisa ran well behind the unlikely leader, Derlys Ayala of Paraguay, who had run a marathon just 12 days before in Buenos Aires. Running alone in a red and white striped uniform, Ayala built up a 62-second lead through 15 kilometers, but the top players for the medals, including Desisa, hardly cared. A pack of six serious contenders --Desisa, Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea, Geoffrey Kirui and Amos Kipruto of Kenya, Stephen Mokoka of South Africa, and Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia-- ran earnestly behind the South American and bided their time.
By the 20-kilometer point, Ayala's lead had dwindled to just six seconds, and just before the half-marathon point (1:05:56) Ayala was caught. He would drop out about two minutes later, just one of 18 athletes from the 73-man field who would fail to finish.
Tadese, five times the world road running/half-marathon champion, did most of the leading from there. There were a few surges by Tadese and Mokoka, but through 30 kilometers (1:33:13) the pack of six was still intact. Desisa would sometimes drift back during the surges, but he always regained contact.
"I controlled everybody and I saved my power," Desisa explained.
Behind the leading six, Britain's Callum Hawkins was running an excellent second half and was steadily gaining on the leaders. He was in ninth place at 30-K, but moved up to seventh by 35-K. Hawkins, who finished fourth in the last world championships marathon in London two years ago, would become a factor later in the race.
Between 30 and 35-K, Kirui began to falter. He would continue to drift back and eventually finished 14th. Tadese, who was still on the back of the lead pack at 35-K, was the next to fall out of contention; he would finish sixth.
Meanwhile, Hawkins was gaining on the four men remaining in the lead pack --Desisa, Mokoka, Kipruto and Geremew-- but he was about 14 seconds down in the 37th kilometer. That's the same time that Desisa went to the lead for the first time and began to show his cards.
Just before the 40-kilometer mark (2:04:24), Hawkins caught the lead pack and five men remained in contention. Hawkins was clearly suffering, but after getting fourth two years ago he was determined to hang on. The Scotsman had been running his previous kilometers at just over three minutes and had used a lot of energy to catch up.
The 41st kilometer was covered in 2:59, a painful pace when the temperature is 29C with 50% humidity. Desisa waited another 90 seconds, then launched his bid for victory.
"With one kilometer to go I thought this is like the end of a 10,000m race and I started to push," Desisa said.
Hawkins quickly fell back, followed by Kipruto. Geremew hung on as long as he could, but with about 150 meters left, Desisa shifted up to his top gear and Geremew could not respond. The victory was Desisa's.
"I did perfectly what my coaches told me and I won the race," Desisa explained. "My country is happy and my family."
Geremew (2:10:44) and Kipruto (2:10:51) won silver and bronze, respectively. Hawkins finished fourth in 2:10:57, and despite his disappointment was philosophical about his race.
"The three guys that got medals are proper world class," he told reporters in the mixed zone. He continued: "To be that close to the big guns on a championships really helps."
Desisa is scheduled to defend his title at the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 3, which he may have to do on tired legs. However, winning a world title was important to him.
"Finally, I can bring home a gold medal," he said. "It is important for my country."