JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
In her first appearance at the Honolulu Marathon, Russia's Olesya Nurgalieva was the top female finisher, crossing the finish line in 2:30:24 yesterday and earning $20,000 in prize money and incentives.
Nurgalieva leaves female competitors far behind
Most of the pre-race attention was focused on three-time and defending champion Lyubov Morgunova.
But fellow Russian Olesya Nurgalieva left her countrywoman and everyone else in the dust yesterday as she cruised to her first Honolulu Marathon title.
The Top 5 Finishers
|1. Olesya Nurgalieva
|2. Eri Hayakawa
|3. Alevtina Ivanova
|4. Elena Nurgalieva
|5. Lyubov Morgunova
From the starting cannon to the finish line, the 29-year-old led the way. She was never challenged past the halfway mark except by Junichi Kawabata, the seventh-place men's finisher.
Nurgalieva's first-place finish earned her $15,000, and her time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 24 seconds added $5,000 in incentives to that total.
"I think she wanted to run this kind of gutsy race," said Konstantin Selenivich, agent to the strong Russian contingent. "She didn't want to take a chance and fall behind someone."
Though it was a clear day with little humidity or wind, Nurgalieva's pace was more than 3 minutes behind the course record set last year by Morgunova.
Experience meant very little in the race, as Nurgalieva took the title in her first time running here and just her second regular-length marathon (26.2 miles). Usually an ultramarathon runner, Nurgalieva earlier this year finished second in both the 56K Two Oceans Marathon and the 89K Comrades Marathon.
Eri Hayakawa of Japan, the 2003 champion, finished a distant second in 2:32:59, and Alevtina Ivanova of Russia finished third in 2:38:17.
Despite being almost 3 minutes behind Morgunova and Ivanova at the halfway mark, Hayakawa turned it on down the stretch, improving by 4 minutes in the second half of the course.
"I'm not happy," Hayakawa said through a translator. "It is the worst record I've ever had. I'm not happy at all."
She added that she'd struggled with a fever the past two days and couldn't train on Saturday.
Nurgalieva's twin sister, Elena, finished fourth, and Morgunova slipped from second midway through the race to finish fifth and more than 13 minutes behind her record-setting time of last year.
In the first mile, the Russian trio of the Nurgalieva sisters and pace-setter Tatyana Chulakh jumped out to take the lead, running along with a group of men. And by the fifth mile, Elena started to drop off, leaving Olesya and Chulakh in front.
By that time, Morgunova, who was less than 10 meters behind the pack early on, had fallen behind by about 100 meters. The 34-year-old, who had won all three times she had previously participated in Honolulu, said the pressure to repeat put a strain on her.
"Probably the main reason for my performance was because I set a goal ... to win. I was stressed too much," Morgunova said through a translator. "Too much pressure.
"I would like to come back, but next time, would like to be more concentrated and calm, and not be over-stressed."
Lack of sleep also contributed to Morgunova's disappointing finish. She arrived in Hawaii on Friday night, and because of jet lag, slept just 2 hours in the last two days.
"It was a surprise," Selenivich said of Morgunova's finish. "But to be honest, there was a reason for it. She didn't feel well since she came here. But she was ready to run. Just a few things went wrong."
At the halfway mark, having done her job as pace-setter, Chulakh dropped out, leaving Nurgalieva to fend for herself in a pack of five male runners.
And as the pack rounded Hawaii Kai Drive on its way back to Kapiolani Park, the group dispersed and Nurgalieva had more than a minute's lead on the rest of the women in the field.
But it wasn't until the last 4 or 5 miles before the finish line that Nurgalieva knew she had the race won, as Selenivich yelled to her from the pace truck that no one was behind her.
The only competition in the women's race was that for runner-up. Making a strong move in the late stages, Hayakawa could only hope to claim second place.
"I was already in fourth place and the leader was so far ahead I couldn't see her," she said. "I passed by two girls at 36-37 kilometers, but (Nurgalieva) was too far ahead."