Ethiopia Wins International Team Challenge at Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

Men's start in Virginia Beach. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Kenya’s William Chebor Takes Men’s Title; Ethiopians Sweep 1-2-3 in Women’s Race

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Virginia Beach, VA – September 6, 2009 – 19-year-old half marathon junior world record holder Abebu Gelan led a sweep of the women’s professional race, leading Ethiopia to victory in the first International Team Challenge at the ninth annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach. Country women Tiki Gelan and Meseret Mengistu finished second and third. The Ethiopian women were ably supported by second an d third place finishes by their teammates Feyisa Lilesa and Zenbaba Yigeze in the men’s professional race behind race winner William Chebor of Kenya.

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Kenya’s William Chebor Takes Men’s Title

The Ethiopian total of eight points, in the low-score format, was easily better than the 21 points compiled by the Japanese squad in second place.  Kenya with 24 points finished in third place, but their chances all but disappeared when defending women’s champion Edith Masai was hit by a hamstring pull in the first mile, forcing her to jog, rather than race the 13.1-mile distance.

“The youth of Ethiopia prevailed today,” said FSN TV commentator Toni Reavis. “When Masai went out early, the Kenyans had no one to step into the breach.  But notwithstanding, the Ethiopian performance should not be discounted. They ran beautifully as a team, and were worthy champions.”

The professional women started 15 minutes ahead of the men and the 20,000 regular runners in front of the Virginia Beach Convention Center on 19th Street.  Even under near ideal conditions, the women began conservatively with a 6:00 first mile.  They formed up into a nine-woman lead pack after a 5:42 second mile, with all three Ethiopians joined by the four-woman Japanese team, 2006 & 2007 champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya and Europe’s top woman Daniela Cirlan of Romania.

Abebu Gelan led a sweep of the women’s professional race.

The professional men began their journey as aggressively as if catching the lead women were their task.  Led by Ethiopian’s Zenbaba Yigeze and Feyisa Lilesa, they hit 4:41 for mile one, then strung together five consecutive mid-4:30 miles, putting the 2005 course record of 1:00:42 in jeopardy.  At mile four the race turned into a two man dual, with Lilesa, the 19-year-old from Ethiopia joined by Chebor, who earlier this year won the Azkoitia Half Marathon in Spain.  Each tried unsuccessfully to drop the other in a series of punishing surges as the route turned to the backside of the course from miles five through nine.

“This was as no holds barred of a competition as we’ve seen in a long time,” said FSN color man Todd Williams, himself a two-time Olympian. “The surges were all out blasts.  It was hard to believe they were racing a half marathon.”

Up ahead the lead women remained together in a pack of six, having passed 10k in 35:35, with the three young Ethiopians and Japanese still holding their fire. It would remain so until the final sprint up the famed oceanfront boardwalk when Abebu Gelan edged away for the win in 1:13:43, followed by Tiki Gelana and Meserte Mengistu. The Japanese duo of Hiroko Miyauchi and Yumi Hirata finished closely behind in fourth and fifth.

The men’s competition finally broke as the course looped back along General Booth Boulevard just past nine miles. For maybe the tenth time in the race Chebor surged ahead, and this time Lilesa could not cover the move.

“The course was very nice, I like the Rock ‘n’ Roll,” said Chebor, who finished seventh in the 2004 race. “All the other runners on the course were cheering and it made me go.”

With victory assured, Chebor managed his lead to the finish line, with a time of 1:01:29 Lilesa followed in 1:02:15, with Yigeze in third in 1:03:24. Chebor trains with 2002 Virginia Beach Champion and former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat. Chebor also was coming off his debut marathon in Australia this July, a 2:11 victory at the Gold Coast Marathon.

Cele Rodriguez was the top American male, finishing in tenth at 1:05:17. Veena Reddy, from Virgina was the top American female, also finishing tenth with a time of 1:20:11. Europe and the U.S. tied for fourth in the team competition with 42 points.

In its first year, the team challenge matched five countries competing cross-country style for a $10,000 first place prize. Points were awarded on the basis of finishing place, the Ethiopian team, with the lowest score of 8 total points, was declared the winner.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon will celebrate its tenth anniversary in Virginia Beach on September 5, 2010.  For more information please visit, www.rnrvb.com.

Top-5 Results

Individual Men

1. William Chebor, 26, Kenya, 1:01:29

2. Feyisa Lilesa, 19, Ethiopia, 1:02:15

3. Zembaba Yigezu, 26, Ethiopia, 1:03:24

4. Samuel Ndereba, 32, Kenya, 1:03:50

5. Noritaka Fijiyama, 25, Japan, 1:03:50

Individual Women

1. Abebu Gelan, 19, Ethiopia, 1:13:43

2. Tiki Gelana, 29, Ethiopia, 1:13:45

3. Meseret Mengistu, 19, Ethiopia, 1:13:46

4. Hiroko Miyauchi, 26, Japan, 1:13:52

5. Yumi Hirata, 28, Japan, 1:13:56

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