The Ethiopian has won the last four Carlsbad 5000 titles.
PHILADELPHIA — Dejen Gebremeskel is graduating.
After winning a record four consecutive titles at the Carlsbad 5000, the fleet Ethiopian is moving up in class, running his first half marathon this weekend. Gebremeskel will be among the favorites in the Sept. 21 Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, one of the most prestigious races in the world at that distance.
“It’s great to have one of the world’s best athletes make his half marathon debut in Philadelphia,” said Matt Turnbull, elite athlete coordinator for the event. “He’s no stranger to the roads … but this is a step up in distance for him and should prove a stern test.
“I’m expecting the pace to be fast and if he’s there with a couple of kilometers to go, then the athletes around him will know he’ll be a major threat.”
The pace will most likely be fast, assuming the weather cooperates, because the pacesetter, Alex Olotiptip of Kenya, has run 59:58 for the half marathon. Turnbull expects Olotiptip to go at least 10 kilometers or possibly eight miles.
“I’m looking forward to making my debut half marathon in Philadelphia,” Gebremeskel said. “As a Carlsbad 5000 winner, a Rock ‘n ‘Roll half marathon is a great choice for me as I know [the organizers] will bring [strong] opposition and put on a great race. I hope to run fast and look forward to testing myself against the world’s best.”
That opposition includes Kenyans Baden Karoki, Cybrian Kotut and Geoffrey Bundi, as well as Eritrea’s Samson Gebreyohannes. Dathan Ritzenhein of the United States was forced to drop out due to an ankle injury.
The field will be chasing the world record of 58:23 held by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea and the course record of 58:46, which is the current U.S. all-comers record.
Karoki has great potential. He finished fifth over 10,000 meters at the 2012 Olympics, and in 2014 has set personal bests over 5,000 and 10,000 meters on the track, along with 10K on the roads. This year, he also made his half marathon debut in Lisbon, Portugal and won with a time of 59:58.
“He is following in the footsteps of [Kenya’s] Sammy Wanjiru, the former Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder [in the marathon],” Turnbull said. “I’m looking for a breakthrough on the roads from him. He’s a good, solid athlete. I think he can be the next great marathon runner. I’m excited to see how fast he can go.”
Kotut finished second last year in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in 59:59, breaking the 60-minute barrier for the first time. Bundi finished second at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon in 60:28.
Gebreyohannes, a native of the same country as Meb Keflezighi, finished eighth at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen in a PR of 60:13, and was fourth at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon.
Top Americans in the field include ASICS Mammoth Track Club teammates Shadrack Biwott, Gabe Proctor and Scott Bauhs. Biwott and Proctor have run two of the five fastest half marathons of the year by Americans, and Bauhs recently recorded a top-5 finish at the U.S. 20K Championships in New Haven, Conn. Among the other highly touted U.S. athletes are Jeffrey Eggleston (63:00), who recently set a new marathon PR of 2:10.52 at the Gold Coast marathon in July, Tyler McCandless (63:16), Stephen Pifer, (63:44) and Andy Wacker (63:25).
While many of the elite runners have shown their capability in the half marathon, much of the curiosity will focus on Gebremeskel.
“I’ve been trying for a couple of years to get him to run this race,” Turnbull said. “With no Olympics or world championships this year, it was a good opportunity for him. This could be a turning point in his career to see how well he runs. He has a great kick, but he can also run from the front. He’s been training very hard in Ethiopia. If he runs well, he could be a factor in the half marathon or the marathon [in the future].
“This is a first step to see how it goes. I’m delighted to have Dejen here. His presence is very much anticipated.”
Turnbull is reluctant to predict a world record. “That could jinx it,” he said. “Things have to be perfect for that to happen.”
It would not be surprising though if it did happen. Philadelphia has been the site of five world records, plus five American records and the current men’s and women’s U.S. all-comers’ records.
For the first time in 2014, race weekend in Philadelphia will include two days of running with a Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K event taking place on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday to create a running festival weekend. Runners who complete both races will earn the special “Remix Challenge” medal.
Both events will begin at 8 a.m., starting and finishing at Eakins Oval directly in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The half marathon course remains flat and fast beginning on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, surrounded by stunning views of the city skyline, running through the historical Center City, past Independence Hall and along the scenic Schuylkill River. After crossing the finish line, runners will join family and friends to celebrate their accomplishment at the concert headlined by Rusted Root.