MOSCOW (Reuters) - Kenyan Edna Kiplagat defied hot and humid conditions and a brave front-running display from Italian Valeria Straneo to become the first woman to retain the world marathon title on Saturday.
Kiplagat, 33, won the first gold of the Moscow world championships after timing her race to perfection, taking control in the shadows of the Luzhniki stadium to win in 2:25:44.
The smooth-striding Kiplagat, who led a Kenyan sweep of the medals in Daegu in 2011, stalked Straneo, 37, until the 40-kilometre mark after the two other leading protagonists - Japan’s Kayoko Fukushi and Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu dropped off the pace.
Kiplagat was happy to drop some 30 seconds behind the pace over the first 10k, a strategy she said allowed her to slowly build momentum.
“I felt a bit tired at the start - my body did not react immediately,” she told a news conference. “I just wanted to relax, prepare my body so I could pick up gradually.”
Despite the energy-sapping conditions, Kiplagat’s winning time was just under three minutes quicker than her gold-winning performance in Daegu which was also hot and humid.
Straneo, who underwent major surgery in 2010 to have her spleen and gall bladder removed, had run strongly at the front but was unable respond when the race reached the shade of the Olympic Park and took silver in 2:25:58. Fukushi, 31, secured bronze in 2:27:45 to complete a podium sweep for the thirty-somethings.
Sporting pink trainers, Straneo celebrated her silver by performing a cartwheel on the track and later said she was “the surprise of the day”.
“At 40km I had to let Edna go because I felt pain in the muscles of my legs,” said the Italian, eighth in the Olympic marathon in London.
“I ran my own race from the beginning and my pace was good. The heat was not bad for me. I’m comfortable with it.”
Kiplagat’s victory made up for a disappointing London Olympics last year when she was suffering with flu and trailed home 20th behind Ethiopian Tiki Gelana.
She showed she had regained her form by finishing second in the London marathon in April, but Gelana’s poor season continued on Saturday as she dropped out before the 15-km mark of a race run by the banks of the Moskva river and on a series of loops between the stadium and Red Square.
Gelana also suffered in the London marathon when was knocked to the ground after being struck by a wheelchair athlete mid-race, limping home in 16th place.
Editing by Mitch Phillips