Betsy Saina blows away field to win in her debut race in France

Kenyans clinched a double at the 42nd edition of Paris Marathon as Paul Lonyangata defended the men’s title in 2:06:25 while Betsy Saina clocked 2:22:55 to clinch her maiden marathon gold.

Lonyangata, who won the title last year alongside his wife Purity Rionoripo, became the first man to win back-to-back titles since Briton Steve Brace in 1989 and 1990. He finished 15 seconds outside his personal best set last year on the same course.

The 25-year-old edged out compatriot Mathew Kisorio who came in 11 minutes later in 2:06:36 while Ernest Ng’eno completed the Kenyan podium sweep in 2:06:41.

The lead pack of about 20 athletes hit the 10km marker in 29:51, led by pacemakers Joseph Kiptum, Ben Kiptai and Edwin Koech suggesting a possible finish time of 2:06:00. The group of 20 passed the 15km checkpoint in 44:55, 20km mark in 59:48 and the halfway mark in 1:03:00.

Lonyangata made his first move at 31km to test his opponents, followed by compatriot Mathew Kisorio, who then shot out of the lead pack. Only Kenya’s Ernest Ngeno, Lonyangata and Ethiopia’s Yitayal Atnafu were able to sustain his pace.

“It’s a wonderful day for me. I love Paris so much,” said a delighted Lonyangata after the win.

In the women’s race Saina won gold in her first marathon finish, having faltered in Tokyo and New York last year, and two months after lowering her half marathon best to 1:09:17.

Ruth Chepngetich finished second in 2:22:59 while Ethiopia’s Gulume Chala came in third in 2:23:06. The women’s race started 16min 26sec before the men, the difference in times between the male and female winners last year. Leonida Mosop of Kenya led a group of 12 who went through the 10km mark in 33:22 while the half marathon was covered in 1:10:21.

At that point the lead pack of eight, excluding pace setter Mosop, reached the 25km mark in 1:23:59, with Yuka Takashima of Japan five seconds adrift.

Mosop dropped soon after leaving the eight women at the front eyeing each other, planning their moves. As they approached the 35th kilometre, Amane Gobena, the fastest women in the field courtesy a PB of 2:21:51, fell at the water station and lost some ground over her opponents.

With four kilometres remaining, Saina made her decisive move, opening a small gap over Chepngetich and Chala. She reached 40 kilometres in 2:15:47, four seconds ahead of Chepngetich, with Chala trailing another second behind. As the final stretch loomed, Chepngetich joined the leader.

But in a very close and dramatic finish, Saina found the reserves to change gears and prevail by four seconds over Chepngetich and 11 ahead of Chala.

“I’m so happy. Lonyangata pushed me a little bit when he caught up with me midway through the 40km stretch. It’s really good to win my first marathon.”

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