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Ethiopians Storm to 2023 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon Titles

Athlete Info   |  Oct. 16, 2023

The 2023 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon was won by Ethiopians Adane Kebede Gebre and Tsige Haileslase Abreha on Sunday, 15 October. Windstill conditions on the start line, alongside the DHL Cape Town Stadium in Green Point, belied the gusty nature of the wind on the rest of the course. This slowed the elite men significantly as Kebede Gebre could only manage 2 hours, 11 minutes and 28 seconds. Haileslase Abreha came close to the course record, but had to settle for the Olympic Qualifying mark by running home in 2 hours, 24 minutes and 17 seconds. 

The 42.2 kilometre-long marathon course snaked through the Mother City, heading southeast through Woodstock, Rosebank, Rondebosch and Newlands. Turning back towards the central business district the route returned via Mowbray, Observatory, Salt River and Gardens. In the final 10 kilometres the race passed within 100 metres of the finish line, looping to the far end of Sea Point and came home along Beach Road and Helen Suzman Boulevard. After the relatively sheltered run along the hotel and high-rise apartment-lined Beach Road the unprotected expanse of the final boulevard made the final kilometre exceptionally challenging. 

As soon at the elite wheelchair athletes and the top runners rounded out of the wind shadow of Signal Hill the wind began to affect the racing. “Gusts were blowing between buildings and made it difficult to control the chair,” Rainbow-Cooper, the elite women’s wheelchair race winner, recounted. This slowed the runners too. “I thought we were going to run a 2:14,” defending men’s champion Stephen Mokoka added. 

A big group of 27 men ran through the first 15 kilometres together. The men’s pre-race favourites were all in contention, watching each other and unwilling to stride out in the wind alone. That was until Gadisa Bekele Gutama pushed the pace exiting Newlands and taking advantage of a short descent to open a 2 second lead. Lucky Mohale, Thabang Masihlelo and Bayelign Teshager Yegzaw all took turns to lead the chase, eventually reeling the lone Ethiopian in before the race passed the Rondebosch Common at the half-way mark.

“From half-way the guys started to work together well and the pace increased,” Mokoka explained. This also caused a gradual whittling down, with the lead group thinning from 27 to 11 main contenders heading into the final 10 kilometres. South African fans were treated to the sight of Melikhaya Frans and Tete Dijana hitting the front in that key phase of proceedings, but when the race reached its true business end Mokoka was alone with group of East Africans. 

Passing the final aid station Mokoka made his move. “My coach always reminds you, what you drink now is only for later. So, when some of the guys moved across the road to take a feed I pressed on,” the course record holder said. Only Kebede Gebre went with Mokoka, but even the Ethiopian speedster was initially at a slight disadvantage. 

It took Kebede Gebre the best part of a kilometre to draw level with Mokoka. Then the two ran shoulder to shoulder into the final bend. “I felt the wind blowing across me and I knew I was in trouble,” Mokoka confessed. Within sight of the line the Ethiopian edged ahead, striding into a sprint as the South African lost ground with each step. 

Kebede Gebre crossed the line victorious, 6 seconds ahead of Mokoka. “I’m very happy to take the win,” Kebede Gebre expressed, through a translator. “The race was really very good and I enjoyed both it and my time in Cape Town. We’ve been welcomed by the city so well and have enjoyed incredible hospitality.” 

Kebede Gebre and Mokoka were joined on the podium by Benard Kipkorir. The Kenyan was 23 seconds off the winning time, just ahead of his compatriot Joshua Kipkemboi Kogo and Zewudu Hailu Bekele, of Ethiopia. In total there were four Ethiopians, three Kenyans, two South Africans and a Zimbawean in the top ten. Double Comrades Marathon winner, Dijana claimed tenth, holding off Desmond Mokgobu by a single second. 

In the women’s race a strong group of nine runners covered the first 15 kilometres together, led by two pace makers. It was only around the half-way mark that the wind and the attritional nature of the course began to take their toll. There Emane Seifu Hayile, Cynthia Chepchirchir Kosgei and 2021 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon winner Lydia Naliaka Simiyu were distanced by the group. 

Haileslase Abreha forced the pace and the pressure over the next 5 kilometres, until only Sheila Chepkech, of Kenya, and four Ethiopians remained in contention. Along with Haileslase Abreha, Selam Fente Gebre, Melesech Tsegaye Beyene and Melesech Tsegaye Beyenewere representing the mountainous East African nation at the sharp end of the elite women’s race. At least until Haileslase Abreha kicked again. 

Once she upped the tempo a final time none of her rivals could follow. In the first 3 kilometres, after her acceleration, she established a 15 second lead on Chepkech, while Fente Gebre, Tsegaye Beyene and Tsegaye Beyenewere strung out at further 15 second intervals behind. Such was Haileslase Abreha’s dominance in kilometres 30 to 40 that even cramps in the final 2 kilometres could not prevent her from claiming the victory. Though they may well have cost her the course record, which Meseret Dinke Meleka had set in 2022. Haileslase Abreha finished 15 seconds off the record, but has the consolation that her time was good enough to meet the Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualifying standard.  

In the final kilometres Chepkech faded from second to fourth while Tsegaye Beyene finished strong. The second-place finisher on the day also beat the Olympic qualifying mark of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 50 seconds. Her time was 38 seconds faster than that key mark, while being 2 minutes and 5 seconds off the winner’s time. Shewarge Alene Amare also finished powerfully, surging from seventh to third, completing a clean sweep of the podium places for Ethiopia. Chepkech and Naliaka Simiyu rounded out the top five. In total there were five Ethiopians, three Kenyans and two South Africans in the elite women’s top ten places. Tamryn Mckie, in ninth, was the first South African home. 

“We’re really happy to be here in Cape Town, showing the training we put in with the top Ethiopian team,” Alene Amare stated, as she translated for her countrymen and -women. “The race was very hard and windy. But they’re happy to have taken first, second and third. We’ll definitely keep coming back to the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon if the race keeps inviting us!”

Along with the elite men’s and women’s race the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon also hosted the second edition of the elite wheelchair race. The men’s event was dominated by the Netherland’s Geert Schipper. Schipper broke away from Michael McCabe and Sean Frame within the first 5 kilometres and soloed to a commanding victory, by over 10 minutes. 

Eden Rainbow-Cooper, of Great Britan, was nearly as dominant in the women’s wheelchair race winning by 5 minutes. She, Australian Christie Dawes and Brazilian Vanessa Cristina De Souza all commented on the difficulty of racing in the wind. The top three women nevertheless managed to dip below the 2-hour mark and illustrate what might be possible on this course, on a less windy day. 

2023 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon

Men’s Results:

1. Adane Kebede Gebre (2:11:28)

2. Stephen Mokoka (2:11:33 | +6)

3. Benard Kipkorir (2:11:51 | +23)

4. Joshua Kipkemboi Kogo (2:11:54 | +27)

5. Zewudu Hailu Bekele (2:11:57 | +29)

6. Bayelign Teshager Yegzaw (2:12:12 | +45)

7. Dagnachew Adere Maru (2:12:19 | + 52)

8. Sila Kiptoo (2:12:39 | +1:12)

9. Blessing Waison (2:12:49 | +1:22)

10. Tete Dijana (2:13:24 | +1:57)

Women’s Results:

1. Tsige Haileslase Abreha (2:24:17)

2. Melesech Tsegaye Beyene (2:26:22 | +2:05)

3. Shewarge Alene Amare (2:27:26 | +3:09)

4. Sheila Chepkech (2:27:41 | +3:24)

5. Lydia Naliaka Simiyu (2:29:04 | +4:47)

6. Ayinadis Teshome Birle (2:29:14 | +4:57)

7. Cynthia Chepchirchir Kosgei (2:29:34 | +5:17)

8. Emane Seifu Hayile (2:30:23 | +6:06)

9. Tamryn Mckie (2:32:36 | +8:19)

10. Nontokozo Happiness Mkhize (2:40:40 | +16:23)

Men’s Elite Wheelchair Results

1. Geert Schipper (1:32:09)        

2. Michael Mccabe (1:43:01 | +10:52)

3. Sean Frame (1:43:02 | +10:54)

Women’s Elite Wheelchair Results

1. Eden Rainbow-Cooper (1:52:58)

2. Christie Dawes (1:58:03 | +5:06)

3. Vanessa Cristina De Souza (1:58:37 | +5:40)For the full results from the 2023 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon please click here.

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