Kamworor Overcomes Fall to Dominate World Half-Marathon Championship

Geoffrey Kamworor if Kenya wins the 2016 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Cardiff, Wales (photo by Getty Images for IAAF)

(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

CARDIFF, Wales — Just as the starter’s pistol fired for men’s race at today’s 22nd IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships here in the Welsh capital, defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor found himself in the worst possible position: face down on the pavement.

The 23-year-old Kenyan, who won these championships in 2014 in Copenhagen, had shifted his weight just as the initial surge of the pack pushed him from behind and pitched him violently forward. He desperately worked to regain his feet as his chief rival, Britain’s Mo Farah, spurted away.

“It’s unfortunate that I fell down at the start,” a composed Kamworor later told the media.  He continued, shaking his head: “People were coming from behind and pushing me down.”

Remarkably, Kamworor not only got back on his feet, but the 2015 World Championships 10,000m silver medalist would eventually overwhelm a top-notch field and win his second world road running title in 59:10, a remarkable time considering not only the fall but the cold, windy and rainy conditions which included a downpour in the final 5K of the race.

“I never give up,” Kamworor told reporters.

Indeed. By the 5K mark, Kamworor was already in the lead pack where his teammate, Bedan Karoki, was controlling the pace.  The 5K split was honest (14:10) and 13 men were still in contention, including Farah, who was competing at these championships for the first time.

But “honest” wasn’t fast enough for Karoki.  With Kamworor latched on, Karoki blew through the second 5K in a blistering 13:48 (27:59). Farah checked the time and wasn’t quite sure what to make of the pace. Would they just blow up later?

“It was an incredible pace,” Farah told reporters after the race.  He continued: “Three or four miles into the race they were at the front controlling it. Karoki was pushing and pushing.”

As the rain intensified, Karoki and Kamworor upped the tempo another notch.  They ran the next 5K in 13:42, putting five seconds on their nearest chaser, Tamrat Tola of Ethiopia. Farah was back in sixth place, 22 seconds behind the leaders. He knew that gold or silver was now out of the question, but steeled himself to fight for bronze.

“I’ll just work my way through,” Farah said he told himself. “Don’t let that gap get bigger.”

With a final surge before the 20K mark, Kamworor dropped Karoki and put the race out of reach.  Karoki—who was clearly exhausted and had looked behind himself a few times—held on for second in 59:36.  That’s the same position he finished behind Kamworor at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships last year in China.

Behind them, Farah was in a mighty fight for both personal and British pride.  Coming into the homestretch he launched his world-beating sprint, trying to dispatch Ethiopia’s Abayneh Ayele. But the African fought him tooth and nail, staying right on Farah’s heels all the way to the line. Farah got bronze by a step over Ayele; both men were given the same time: 59:59.

“I’m definitely a bit disappointed to be honest with you,” said Farah who set a European record of 42:04 at the 15K point.  “That’s who I am.”

The Kenyans won the team title with a total time of 2:58:58 for their top-3 runners, with the Ethiopians second in 3:01:16 and Eritrea third in 3:06:18.  Those were the same three teams which made the podium in 2014, except in a different order (Eritrea, Kenya and Ethiopia).

The American team finished sixth, led by Tim Ritchie (23rd, 1:03:49) and Jared Ward (26th, 1:04:05).

Jipchirchir Upsets Kenyan Teammates to Take Women’s Title

In the women’s contest, there was no doubt that the five-strong Kenyan team was the best on the field of play. Led by Mary Wacera, the silver medalist from these championships in 2014, Team Kenya led right from the starter’s gun, completely controlling the race.

By the 15K mark (48:14) only one Kenyan, Pascalia Kipkoech, had fallen off the pace.  Two Ethiopians, Netsanet Gudeta and Ganet Yalew, managed to hold the tempo with Wacera, and her Kenyan compatriots Peres Jepchirchir, Cynthia Limo, and Gladys Cheshire.  They would soon find the pace, rain and cold too tough, especially with the modest hills near the end.

“It was difficult,” Jepchirchir said.  “The last two kilometers it was climbing the hill.  Yeah, it was cold.”

Running 15:59 from 15 to 20K, Jepchirchir and Limo broke up the pack, sending Wacera back to third where she would finish in 1:07:54.  The two Kenyans ran side by side right to the finish straight where Jepchirchir, the youngest member of the Kenyan squad at just 22, won in the final sprint over Limo, 1:07:31 to 1:07:34.

“I was happy to come first,” said Jepchirchir, who thought the course was more difficult than advertised.  “It was not flat.”

Limo, who could barely stand after crossing the line, was satisfied with her silver medal, especially since her team had swept the podium and won the team title for the second consecutive championships.

“Yes, I was second,” Limo told Race Results Weekly.  “It wasn’t easy because it was windy and cold and there were a lot of slopes.  And you know, because of the rain, it made our muscles to be so tired.  And it was struggling, struggling to get to the finish.”

Ethiopia took a distant second in the team competition with a total time of 3:26:29.  A young Japanese team was third (3:32:25).

It was not a great day for the American team.  Their highest finisher on the day was Janet Bawcom who took 11th in the women’s race.  Like seven other members of the USA team, she had run the USA Olympic Trials Marathon on February 13, and still felt fatigued.

“The course was pretty good, except for the spots which were so open,” Bawcom told Race Results Weekly.  “Not a lot of people.  So, it was a little rough. I think the worst part was the last, probably, three miles when we were all spread out and you were just fighting for every second by yourself.”

The next edition of the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships will take place in Valencia in 2018.

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