In a press conference announcing the field for the elite runners at the 16th edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, Tim Hutchings — who has been the regular commentator for all Mumbai Marathons to date — called the men's runners on show this year 'the greatest elite field' assembled at the race.
Cosmas Lagat would probably have allowed himself a little chuckle as he burst away from the lead pack at the 29km mark and won the marathon on Sunday at a blistering pace of 2:09:15 secs, almost a minute ahead of second-placed Aychew Bantie, who finished at 2:10:05.
Lagat's eventual finish timing was far from troubling the official course record at the event, set by his Kenyan compatriot, Gideon Kipketer, in 2016. Yet, the dominance shown by the 24-year-old on Sunday was such that it left the others gasping for breath in his slipstream.
While Lagat's win upset the pre-race predictions — he was, after all, only the fourth fastest man in the elite men's field, behind Ethiopia's Abera Kuma and Kenyans Jacob Kendagor and Elijah Kemboi — his victory should probably not come as a surprise to anyone. Lagat did run as a pacesetter for world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge when he ran at the 2016 London Marathon. Incidentally, in that race, where Kipchoge ended up setting the course record, helping Lagat with pacesetting duties was Kipketer.
"I paced only at the one race in London. In fact, it was the first time I ran in the marathon. I decided after that race that I don't want to set the pace for others again. So I never had the chance to be a pace-setter after that race," said Lagat. "Running a marathon as a contender and entering it just to set the pace are two completely different experiences."
Despite his scorching pace, he admitted the course record was never on his mind.
"Victory was the only thing on my mind today. The course record, not so much," Lagat told journalists after his victory.
The Abera Kuma factor
What also worked in the favour of Lagat was the poor form of Abera Kuma, who was the fastest man in the men's field coming into Sunday's race. In the pre-race press conference, Kuma had boldly predicted that he would look to break the course record — a statement that many runners admitted they took heed of and consequently showed him too much respect.
Aychew, who trains with Kuma, said: "Cosmas is a very smart guy to have made the move when he did. I was waiting for Kuma to start pushing to up the tempo myself. But it never came. Since Abera had proclaimed that he was going to challenge for the course record, I had deduced that he was in good shape."
This was the reason that the main runners stayed in the lead pack, headlined by Kuma when Lagat made the initial break — a move that decided the complexion of the race. At that stage, the 23-degree weather and a crowded course — those old laments of runners at the Mumbai Marathon — didn't help matters for the others.
While the young Kenyan showed a clean pair of heels, five runners scrambled for positions around Kuma, who was trundling along all through the race, admittedly laid low by a tight hamstring since the 28km mark. The deference shown to him by the other runners kept them from chasing after Lagat, who slowly built his lead until he became a breakaway victor.
"Before the race, I had heard that Kuma had said he would go for the course record. But when we started running, I realised in some time that he wasn't in the best of shape to do it. That's why I broke away so early," said Lagat.
Shumet Akalnew, who finished third, made a break for the second place soon enough but was overhauled by Aychew Bantie by the 40km mark. Kuma eventually finished seventh, just under four minutes off Lagat's time.
"If I get an opportunity, I will go for the course record. Today, I couldn't do it. Maybe next time," Lagat said.
On being asked if being a pacesetter automatically made him better suited to become a marathoner, he said, "Not really. It's a different mentality. If you set out to be a pacemaker, you can be a pacemaker. But you can't be a marathoner with that mentality."
Updated Date: Jan 20, 2019 20:05:24 IST