Hailu Mekonnen of Ethiopia won the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday in a time of 2 hours, 7 minutes, 35 seconds in dazzling sunshine before paying tribute to his countryman, who pulled out of the race after a freak training injury.
“Haile is an incredible athlete who can be beaten by no one,” the 30-year-old Mekonnen told reporters after shaving two seconds off his personal best.
“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.”
Gebrselassie withdrew last week after bruising his knees following a stumble during practice.
The 37-year-old, who clocked a fastest ever time of 2:03:59 when he won the 2008 Berlin marathon, announced his retirement last November only to make a dramatic U-turn days later.
The no-show of the man dubbed the “Emperor” left Sunday’s field wide open and Mekonnen began to pull away from Kenyan Paul Biwott around the 35 kilometre mark to claim the win.
Biwott finished in 2:08:17, followed in third by Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi, who clocked 2:08:37 to qualify for August’s world championships in South Korea.
A record 36000 runners lined up at the start of the race in sunny but chilly conditions in the Japanese capital.
Russia’s Tatiana Aryasova won the women’s race in 2:27:29 with Noriko Higuchi of Japan runner-up a minute and 20 seconds behind. Russian Tatiana Petrova was third in 2:28:56.