The World Cup Women’s Marathon was a race full of races. The leaders took off at a pace that was five minutes faster than the world championship record. Then they slowed down. Then they swelled. Then they slowed down again. It was a fartlek workout disguised as a marathon.
In the end, Ethiopia’s Gotitom Gebreslase and Kenya’s Judith Korir were the ones to emerge and run step by step for the final miles of the race, chasing Britain’s Paula Radcliffe’s 17-year-old world championship record.
Gebresleys won the race in 2 hours 18 minutes 11 seconds, beating Radcliffe’s 2:20:57.
The race, held in Eugene, Ore. And on the streets of neighboring Springfield, there was a lesson in patience for the chasing group, which included three Americans, Sarah Hall, Kira D’Amato and Emma Bates, as they took the first lap. Three laps of the course. Right before the race, Hall asked his teammates if they wanted to work together if they found themselves running at a similar pace. Both enthusiastically agreed and together they controlled the pace in groups of two and three for part of the race.
It was a different story up front with the leaders playing for pace and riding dramatic waves.
A leading pack of eight runners, led by defending champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya, broke away early in a blistering 2hrs 16mins. (The world record for the women’s marathon is 2:14:04.) It became survival of the fittest and a test of who would fall first and who would hold on to the leaders with a firmer hand.
It was Chepngetich – who has the fourth-fastest time in the marathon – who turned the course at the 11-mile mark. He immediately entered the brush and briefly disappeared, a move many runners may have admitted to what later proved to be stomach problems. He did not enter the race.
Then Ethiopian Abel Yeshane fell by the side of the road. Yeshane, who was fighting for third place, had less than seven miles left in the race.
The bronze medal race then took place between Israel’s Lona Chemtai Salpeter and Eritrea’s Nazret Weldu. Salpeter, who won the Tokyo Marathon in March 2020, was hungry for redemption on the global stage. She was in the leading pack with less than three miles to go in last year’s Tokyo Olympic Marathon, but had to pause due to menstrual cramps. (When asked about the incident, he looked at a lone female reporter in the crowd and said, “You see.”) He finished 66th.
Salpeter stepped up to the final, pulling away from Weldu and leaving no doubt in his mind that he would take home the long-awaited medal.
“If you don’t fail, you don’t know how to succeed,” he said after the race, excited. He quickly added that he would be returning to Israel on Tuesday, as his young son was already asking when he would receive his medal.
Hall, the first American to cross the finish line, was fifth in 2:22:10 with a smile on his face.
“I think this is the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon,” he said. Indeed, he threw his arms up to cheer the crowd as the race went on and said he was even smiling in the last mile as the Oregon crowd cheered him on. Bates finished in 2:23:18, a new personal best, while D’Amato, the American marathon record holder, finished eighth in 2:23:34.
D’Amato’s performance was particularly notable because he was a late addition to the team. She was selected less than three weeks ago to replace Tokyo Games marathon bronze medalist Molly Seidel, who withdrew due to injury. Sharing the news on Instagram, Seidel wrote that “if there’s anyone who can take on this challenge in such a short amount of time, it’s her.”
Turns out you can’t exactly run a marathon, D’Amato said. “I was really humbled by that,” he said with a laugh. “I think building a short marathon is not the answer.”
He was training for shorter races when he got the call to join the US marathon delegation, and he didn’t hesitate. He’s done one long run in the past two weeks and said he laughs every time he really thinks about what he signed up for.
“I was very proud of us, you know, to be on Team USA and to finish eighth is pretty awesome,” D’Amato said.