Kenyans in dramatic sprint finish

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Kenyans in dramatic sprint finish


Francis Larabal of Kenya crosses the finish line one second ahead of fellow countryman David Mandago at the JoongAng Seoul Marathon yesterday. By Cho Moon-gyu

Marathon races are grueling tests of endurance that stretch for over two hours. Hence they usually lack the exciting finish of sprint events. However, that was not the case at the 11th JoongAng Seoul Marathon as the race came down to the wire between Francis Larabal of Kenya and his fellow countryman David Mandago yesterday.

In the final stretch, Larabal overtook David Mandago to win the first international race of his career with a time of 2 hours and 9 minutes flat, providing for one of the most memorable finishes in the race’s history. Larabal had managed to maintain his pace among the top three runners throughout the race, which became a battle between three men at about the 32-kilometer (19.9-mile) mark. Then, as Steven Kibet lost ground at about the 38-kilometer mark, Larabal and Mandago battled back and forth for the lead. The two Kenyans entered Jamsil Stadium in southern Seoul at nearly an identical time and while it looked like the 34-year-old veteran Mandago would take the race, Larabal took over with a burst of speed in the final 100-meter stretch and crossed the finish line a second ahead of Mandago.

“I entered the race with the thought that I would go for the win at the 35-kilometer mark. I know the strengths of Kenyan runners well. I knew the tendencies of Mandago very well and that is why I knew I could not overtake him in one try. I think my persistent efforts led to my victory today,” Larabal said in a post-race interview.

The 31-year-old took home the $70,000 cash prize reserved for the first placed runner. Larabal was not counted among the favorites to win the race considering the field included accomplished runners such as Felix Limo, David Kiyeng, Mandago, Steven Kibet and Jacob Yator. Larabal is accomplished in the half marathon events but this was only the second full marathon of his career.

He made his full marathon debut at the Paris Marathon in March and placed 12th overall with a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 13 seconds. He shaved 13 seconds off his time in Paris to win the race over Mandago by one second.

Larabal is a bit of a late-bloomer. Although he entered the half marathon scene at the age of 23, he did not hit full stride until two years ago when he placed second at the 2007 Berlin Half Marathon with a time of 59 minutes and 26 seconds.

Coming off an exciting win, Larabal will be chasing a new target. He is now eyeing a time of 2 hours and 5 minutes in the full marathon.

“Training was difficult and I wasn’t getting the results. However, I began to turn things around after breaking the one hour barrier and placing second in Berlin in 2007,” explained Larabal. “It was my first time running in Korea and it was fantastic!”


Participants in the wheelchair race and in the 10K event yesterday. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Limo, who was considered the favorite among many commentators, finished seventh overall with a time of 2 hours, 13 minutes and 13 seconds.

Two Korean runners placed in the top 10: Park Young-min finished with a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes and 3 seconds to claim ninth place and Lee Myung-seung finished 10th with 2 hours, 15 minutes and 23 seconds.

In the women’s event, Lee Sun-young of Andong City won with a time of 2 hours, 34 minutes and 22 seconds to claim her back-to-back title at the JoongAng Seoul Marathon. Although Lee had initially planned on pulling out of the race due to an injury, she decided she did not want to finish off the 2009 calendar in such a low-key way.

She had injured her ankle during the Berlin World Championships this summer and experienced some complications from the injury.

A wheelchair marathon was included in the event for the first time this year and 16 riders participated in the 42.196 kilometer race.

Fukinoe Kota of Japan won with the time of 1 hour, 29 minutes and 11 seconds.


By Jang Chi-hyuk, Jason Kim []

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