Kenyans Dominate World Half Marathon Championships

Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor celebrates his first world championship. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Kenyan women sweep top five positions; Kipsang’s win leads men’s team to silver medal. 

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

COPENHAGEN — Athletes from Kenya dominated the 22nd edition of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, taking individual golds for both men and women, winning the women’s team title by an overwhelming margin, and taking the silver medal in the men’s team competition. Today’s race, held in ideal running conditions, also saw the first mass-participation event held with these championships since 1992 which attracted some 30,000 runners.

Kenyan Women Unstoppable

After a solid opening 5 kilometers in 16:04, led by Italy’s World Championships Marathon silver medalist Valaria Straneo, the Kenyan team stayed closely bunched together. That was their plan under coach Edith Masai, explained eventual gold medalist Gladys Cherono.

“We were running as a team,” said Cherono, last summer’s IAAF World Championships 10,000m silver medalist. “So we were just running as we talked to each other.”

The pace only slowed a little through 10 kilometers (32:14), and by that point Straneo had fallen back along with France’s Christelle Daunay, the only non-Africans still in contention. Minutes later, fans saw only Africans at the front: Kenyans Cherono, Mary Wacera, Selly Kaptich, Lucy Kabuu and Mercy Jerotich; and Ethiopians Genet Yalew and Netsanet Gudeta. At that point, Cherono didn’t know the likely order of finish.

“We did not know who would win,” she said. “At 10K, I decided to push and go.”

Cherono ran the next 5 kilometers in 15:54, and the Ethiopians were gone. Soon, Kabuu would give up too, leaving Cherono, Wacera and Kaptich to sort out the medals between them. At 18 kilometers, Cherono made her bid for victory, scooting away from her teammates.

“At 18K I see that I am still strong,” she explained. “I start to push, and I go.”

Cherono, who has imposing track bests of 14:47.12 for 5000m and 30:29.23 for 10,000m, pulled away with breathtaking speed. By the time she broke the finish tape in 1:07:28 in the Christiansborg Slotsplads, she had amassed a 15-second lead over her teammate, Wacera, who won the silver in 1:07:43. Kaptich, who runs for the Japanese corporate team Kyudenko, got the bronze in 1:07:51. Kenya swept the top-5 positions and won the team title by an improbable four minutes.

“I’m happy because of what I have achieved today,” said Cherono. “I was not expecting it.”

The team silver medal went to Ethiopia in 3:27:02, the Japanese got the bronze in 3:31:30, and Italy and USA rounded out the top five. The Americans, especially 13th place Annie Bersagel (1:10:09 PB) and 14th place Lauren Kleppin (1:10:15 PB) were pleased with their efforts.

“I kind of stopped looking at my watch, I just felt good,” said Bersagel, the reigning U.S. marathon champion who had a short trip to Copenhagen because she lives in Oslo. “I saw Lauren went out pretty early and I just thought, I can run with her, so let’s just try this.”

Kipsang’s Late Dash Wins Men’s Race

Kenya’s Geoffrey Kipsang came into these championships with the second-fastest half-marathon time from 2013 (58:54), and he had high expectations for both himself and his team.

“For me I was mentally and physically prepared; I had no problem,” Kipsang told reporters after the race. “My main goal was to win gold for the country.”

That would not be easy at these championships. Nonetheless, Kipsang had a secret weapon, he said. He trains with world and Olympic Marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich under the same coach, Patrick Sang. Kipsang said that he was inspired by Kiprotich, and wanted a gold medal, too.

“We are training with Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda,” Kipsang continued. “For me, I was really inspired to win the gold. It was my main goal.”

Not wanting to take any chances, Kipsang stayed close to the front through 5K (14:30) and 10K (28:41), and followed a powerful mid-race surge put in by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, who has won these championships a record five times. Tadese had looked impatient and was seen yelling at some of his competitors who he thought weren’t taking their share of the lead.

By the 15K mark, only half a dozen men were still in contention: Kipsang, Tadese, Samuel Tsegaye of Eritrea, defending champion Wilson Kiprop of Kenya, little-known Ethiopian Guye Adola, and Eritrean Nguse Amlosom. Tadese took the group through that 5-kilometer split in a snappy 13:45. Kipsang took stock of the situation, and decided what to do.

“I was feeling a lot of strength,” he recalled. “I was feeling that I could win.”

With a mighty push, Kipsang simply overwhelmed the field and, with every stride, put his rivals farther behind. He managed to build up a 13-second lead by the finish, crossing the line in a world-leading 59:07, a time he hopes to smash later this year.

“For now, my main goal is to prepare well to run the world record in the half marathon,” he told reporters.

Behind him, there was a spirited battle for silver between Tsegay and Adola. They were both timed in 59:20, but Tsegay got the silver and Adola the bronze. Tadese finished out of the medals for the first time at these championships since 2006, yet won his first-ever team gold. By putting three men under 60:00, the Eritreans clocked 2:58:56 as a team, 39 seconds up on Kenya, earning their first team gold medal at these championships. Ethiopia landed the team bronze (3:00:45); South Africa (3:03:10) and Uganda (3:04:36) rounded out the top-5.

The USA team, which finished seventh, was led by former University of Arkansas star Josphat Boit. He finished 21st overall in 1:01:32, a personal best. Coached by Andrew Kastor of the ASICS Mammoth Track Club, the Kenyan-born Boit was particularly pleased to be able to represent the USA for the first time in an international competition.

“It was a great race,” Boit told Race Results Weekly. “I came here to place as high as I could, and it’s great to represent,” he said, pointing at the USA logo on his chest.

Behind the world championships participants, a massive field of 30,000 runners also ran through the streets of Copenhagen. The top finishers from the mass race were Ethiopian Dadafo Dhaqabi Tesama (1:04:55), who runs for a Swedish club, and Denmark’s Sylvia Kiberenge (1:16:44).

The next IAAF World Half Marathon Championships will be held in Cardiff, Wales, on March 26, 2016.

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