By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) – Rose Chelimo, a Bahraini who switched allegiance from her Kenyan homeland, sprinted away from her former compatriot Edna Kiplagat to win the women’s marathon at the World Athletics Championships after a tactical battle and exciting finish on Sunday.
Chelimo, who had looked beaten, fought back over the last few hundred meters approaching the Tower Bridge finish after Kiplagat struck for home too soon with two kilometers left.
Forging away to victory, the 28-year-old, who acquired Bahraini citizenship two years ago and was cleared by the IAAF last year to run for her adopted country, denied Kiplagat what would have been an unprecedented third world marathon gold.
Chelimo finished strongly in 2 hours 27 minutes 11 seconds, seven seconds clear of Kiplagat.
American Amy Cragg made a tremendous final burst to overhaul another Kenyan Flomena Daniel, who had looked set for the bronze medal.
Cragg also closed in swiftly on the tiring 37-year-old Kiplagat but had to settle for third place in the same time of 2:27:18.
Chelimo had enough energy to wave to the crowd as she approached the line and took the Bahraini flag offered by her team officials.
This, though, was the sort of scene that the IAAF want to see ended. Earlier this year, they froze new transfers of allegiance to stop oil-rich countries luring talented athletes from poor countries with offers of school and financial rewards.
Chelimo was one of those athletes, who has achieved success particularly in half-marathons since switching allegiance, and she was effusive in her praise of Bahrain.
“My life will change because I am a world champion for my country now. It is so special for Bahrain, the country is so happy for me to be the winner in 2017. They support me a lot,” Chelimo said.
“I am feeling good and am happy to be the winner. This is one of the best days in my life and, hopefully, there are more to come.”
This was only Chelimo’s fourth marathon. Having won on her debut in Seoul, she finished eighth at the Rio Olympics before her runner-up spot behind Kiplagat in Boston in April.
Chelimo’s victory stopped Kenya celebrating a marathon double alongside men’s champion Geoffrey Kipkorir Kirui on the first occasion both races had been held on the same day.
Chelimo proved a worthy winner of a race that only came alive in the final few kilometers over a tricky, tight-cornered four-lap circuit of central London around some of the city’s most famous sights.
Watched by huge and enthusiastic crowds, British stalwart Aly Dixon, at the age of 38 and with no chance of winning, was the unlikely home star.
She opened up a 32-second lead by the half-way point as she gestured cheerily to the crowd to give her more support.
The real race, though, had not even started. A pack of 14 were still only edging up the pace gradually, allowing Dixon, who eventually finished 18th, to lead until the 18th mile.
Even when caught, she managed to hold on to the main contenders until the two-hour mark as they held off making the first move.
American Cragg eventually broke but, when the field splintered, Chelimo pushed for home only for the more rangy Kiplagat to storm past her.
She had, though, made her move too early with a deceptive uphill stretch toward the finish.
“I think that last 2km was the most difficult. All the way I worked so hard, but the last 3km was too long for me. I think I was too tired after the previous sprints (to try to break Chelimo),” Kiplagat said.
Of her distinguished rival, Chelimo said: “Edna is strong. At 35km I pushed, after some time Edna came and I said to myself ‘let her go’. I already accepted to be second.
“But then I caught her, I was encouraged and thought ‘maybe I can try’ and I succeeded.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)