Blood, guts and ... Glory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 February, 2012, 12:00am


The women's marathon was literally a blood-and-guts effort, with Misiker Demissie winning in large part because she managed to avoid shedding either.

In an African 1-2-3, the Ethiopian took home a bumper cash prize after finishing well ahead of compatriot Shitaye Gemechu and the Kenyan 2009 winner, Winfrida Kwamboka Nyansikera, when their hopes were harmed by injury and illness respectively.

Demissie's time of two hours, 30 minutes and 12 seconds demolished by 3 1/2 minutes the mark set last year by Janet Rono. The first four finishers all broke the old course record.

Demissie, 24, might have had a tougher challenge had it not been for the afflictions besetting her rivals. Gemechu limped to the registration hut afterwards, the front of her right shoe many shades darker red than the rest of it because of the blood that had been pouring from a wound from almost the start of the race. Nyansikera, meanwhile, could only watch Demissie head off into the distance while the Kenyan was doubled over vomiting.

'It was fairly easy and comfortable,' said Demissie. She finished a minute and 32 seconds ahead of Gemechu, with Nyansikera three seconds behind. North Korean hopeful Kim Kum-ok, who won in 2008, was a distant fourth.

'I felt I was going to win the whole way round, even though the girls behind me are strong athletes,' Demissie said. 'The weather was quite warm, but it wasn't too bad and, though the course is very hard with a lot of hills, where I train there are a lot of hills, too.'

Demissie is based in the American state of New Mexico, where she is coached by her husband, Zereu Kelele. She used to compete for Bahrain under the name Teyba Naser before they moved to the United States four years ago, apparently receiving asylum on religious grounds. Demissie would only refer to 'a lot of problems' when asked to elaborate.

She has since reverted to the flag of her birth, though another switch in nationality could help her fulfil her Olympic dream - there obviously being a lot less competition at elite marathon level among Americans than among Ethiopians.

Her personal best of 2:25:21 is better than the Olympic trials record of 2:25:38 set by Shalane Flanagan in making the US team last month, though American citizenship might prove a tougher qualifying standard.

'There are a lot of strong athletes in Ethiopia,' she said, '[but] I'm going all the way to the Olympics, that is my goal. I won't be in London 2012, but hopefully I'll make it to Brazil. My next target is the Boston Marathon. I ran last year and had some problem with my legs, so I want to make up for that.'

Gemechu and Nyansikera put up brave performances.

'The race was very hard. It was the first time I've been here and it's a really tough course,' said Gemechu, echoing the sentiments of most debutants as medical staff saw to the bloody mess that was her right big toe. Given the state of it, it was remarkable that she hung in for second. 'I hurt my foot after five kilometres and that didn't help. After 30 kilometres she passed me and after 35 she was gone.'

Nyansikera - whose time was almost 10 minutes better than when she won in 2009 - felt she could have challenged more strongly had she not had to stop to be sick. The Ethiopian and Kenyan were together until the 38 kilometre mark, when Demissie surged ahead.

'I tried to close up the gap and got there around the 39k and was in second up to 40k,' said Nyansikera. 'Then I felt sick and started vomiting. I had to stop and I was passed by Gemechu. I tried to close up again, but couldn't get to her. The Ethiopians are very strong.'

It was a costly bout of illness for the Kenyan, who planned to donate some of her prize to the Kikuyu Hospital's eye unit in Nairobi - the three seconds between her and Gemechu was the difference between the US$10,000 and US$20,000 third and second prizes.

Meanwhile, if you see someone struggling under the weight of three giant cardboard cheques at Hong Kong Airport today, that will be Demissie. Her second marathon win at her sixth attempt - she took a title in Arizona in 2010 on her debut at the distance and had runners-up places in San Diego and Los Angeles - proved a lucrative couple of hours' work. She took US$50,000 for the win, plus a US$10,000 bonus for finishing under 2:31:00, and then scooped the entire 'special times bonus' pool of US$25,000 since no other woman finished under 2:31:00. Little wonder she plans to return.

'I'm so excited. I'll definitely be back next year to try to win again,' she added. 'It's amazing to break the course record, and of course the bonus will be nice.'


The time Kenyan Shitaye Gemechu (above left) clocked for second ahead of compatriot Winfrida Kwamboka Nyansikera