African marathon triumph in Valencia

The City of Valencia provides a spectacular back drop for the start of the 2023 Valencia Trindad Alfonso Marathon. Photo – Courtesy Valencia Marathon

Thirty-two-year-old Ethiopian Sisay Lemma moved up a notch or two in world marathoning with an emphatic victory at the Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Marathon in ideal conditions in the Spanish port city this morning, becoming the fourth fastest marathoner of all time.

Lemma clocked 2 hr 01 min 48 sec to finish 1 min 23 sec ahead of Kenyan Alexander Mutiso and only Kelvin Kiptum (2:00:35), Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09) and Lemma’s famed countryman, Kenenisa Bekela (2:01:48) have run faster.

32 year old Ethiopian athlete, Sisay Lemma, wins the 2023 Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Marathon. Photo – courtesy Valencia Marathon

Ethiopia’s Dawit Wolde also ran a personal best with a 2:03:48 run in third place.

Lemma finished just seven seconds outside Bekela’s national record, set in Berlin in 2019 with his strong second half, which took him clear of race favourites Kibiwott Kandie (Kenya) and Gabriel Geay (Tanzania), securing the win.

Bekela, now 41 years old, also ran a great race to finish fourth in 2:04:19 to set a world best for master athletes of over forty.

Worknesh Degfa, back in competitive marathoning after a break during COVID and the birth of two children, was in a class of her own in the women’s race, with her win of 2:15:51, a full 33 seconds clear of her compatriot, Almaz Ayana. Both athletes are challenging strongly for selection for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Mother-of-two, Worknesh Dejefa, wins the 2023 Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Marathon. Photo – Courtesy Valencia Marathon

A feature of the race was the focus on national records, with athletes coming from all corners of the planet to make use of the fast course and predictably favourable conditions to chase national records and Olympic qualifying times.

South Africa’s Gerda Steyn closed off a stellar year with a superb 2:24:01 run for 11th place in a world-class field and a 1 min 27 sec improvement on her previous best, which had stood as the national mark since Steyn raced to a 2:25:28 time in Sienna, Italy in 2019.

Steyn will also be delighted to finally eclipse Elana Meyer’s 2:25:15 set in the 1994 Boston Marathon. Having been set on a point-to-point course, Meyer’s time was not classified as a national record.

One of the greatest distance athletes of all time, Ethiopian, Kenenisa Bekele, sets a new time for master athletes over forty years, finishing fourth at Valencia in 2hrs 04min 19 sec. Photo – courtesy Valencia Marathon

“It is about time!” said Van Zyl today. “So many years have gone by and so much improvement in technology.  I am handing over the “title” of fastest marathon by a South African to Gerda – to a worthy & well-deserved athlete!”

What makes Steyn’s marathon performance remarkable, is that it comes on the back of an outstanding year in ultra-marathoning, which included record-breaking runs in the Two Oceans and Comrades Marathon.

Few would argue that Steyn is the world’s leading ultra-marathoner and to achieve a world-class time today over the standard marathon distance sets her apart in the annals of distance running.

Gerda Steyn breaks the tape in record time at the Two Oceans Marathon earlier this year and ran a national marathon record in Valencia today in 2 hrs 24 min 01 sec. Photo – Stephen Granger

Steyn’s time was easily within the new Olympic qualifying standard and she joins other early-qualifiers Stephen Mokoko and Irvette Van Zyl, who struggled in the second half in today’s run to post 2:27:29 for 39th position. Van Zyl’s 2:26:11 in Valencia last year, however, qualifies her for Paris.

Top middle-distance athlete, Adam Lipschitz, ran a solid marathon debut, fnishing 56th in 2:13:01.