Hailu Mekonnen came through for Ethiopia in the absence of compatriot and living legend Haile Gebrselassie, winning the men’s Tokyo Marathon in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 35 seconds on Sunday.
Mekonnen won his first marathon after debuting on the circuit last year, finishing 12 seconds off the race record set in 2008 by Viktor Rothlin.
World marathon record holder Gebrselassie had pulled out from the fifth running of the Tokyo Marathon on Thursday after bruising both knees in a freak training injury.
Mekonnen, who has improved his time in each of the four marathons he has run, said he wanted to make up for Gebrselassie’s withdrawal in trying to keep the race as exciting as possible.
“Haile is an incredible athlete who can be beaten by no one,” said the 30-year-old Mekonnen, who chipped two seconds off his previous personal best set last October in Amsterdam.
“It’s sad and disappointing Haile could not participate. There’s no question he would have made the Tokyo Marathon a much better race. I tried to make up for him not being here by running the best race I could possibly run.
“The Tokyo Marathon is one of the biggest races in the world and I’m very happy to have won it.”
Kenyan Paul Biwott took second at 2:08:17.
The women’s race, won by Tatiana Aryasova of Russia in 2:27:29, did not serve as a qualifier for the worlds. Noriko Higuchi was runnerup.