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King Tergat sets out to conquer half marathon crown

King Tergat sets out to conquer half marathon crown
Ottavio Castellini

Paul Tergat’s love for the half marathon could well be compared to the courtship between he and his wife Monica, a love born when the two were little more than youngsters.

Paul’s flirtation with the half marathon started when he was little more than a youngster too, marking his first major contacts with international athletics. We need to go back in time to 1992. Paul burst onto the Kenyan athletics scene in dramatic fashion; he came third in the military cross country trials and, just a few weeks later, he was the surprise winner of the Trials. Then an injured muscle sidelined him on the eve of the World Championships in Boston and kept him out of competition for five long months.

He returned to competition in August, entering his first competition in Italy, the Amatrice-Configno, a road race in one of the most beautiful regions of the central Appenine mountains. He then went on to compete in the five stages of another great race of that period, the "50 Miles of Franciacorta and its surroundings", staged in the north of Italy between the lakes of Iseo and Garda.

Athe end of this cycle of races, he was selected for the Kenyan squad that was preparing for the first edition of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, which was to be run on the roads between Newcastle and South Shields in the north of England. In fact, Paul was not among the five "official" athletes and participated as a "non-scoring"athlete, in other words, his performance would not give any points to his team. In the end, though, he came in third among the Kenyans, doing better than three of the official athletes. He came fifth overall (1:01:03), behind his countryman Benson Masya, who was the first World Half Marathon Champion, Argentina’s Antion Silio, Tanzania’s Boay Akunay and the other Kenyan, Lameck Aguta.

Ever since then, each year Paul has, alongside competing in cross country and track meets, always run some of the major half marathons.

In 1993, he competed for the first time in the Stramilano, coming second, behind his friend and countryman Moses Tanui, who set a world best performnce of 59.47, becoming the first athlete to run a half marathon in under one hour.

A year later, in 1994, Tergat signed on the streets of Milan the first in a series of victories, which remains unbroken to this day. Since that time, Paul has won every edition of the Stramilano. Here is his Milanese history:

1993 2nd 1:00:45
1994 1st 1:00:13
1995 1st 59:56
1996 1st 58:51*
1997 1st 1:00:23
1998 1st 59:17
1999 1st 59:22

These figures are probably enough in themselves to affirm that Paul Tergat is the greatest specialist of half marathon there has ever been.

He is the only athlete ever to have run the distance three times in less than 60 minutes. In fact, four times really because, when he clocked 58:51, an accurate re-measuring of the course, showed that it was 49 metres too short, erasing Tergat’s presumed world best performance from the record books. But 49 metres could have meant no more than 10-12 seconds.

In addition to the Stramilano, Paul went back to run the Great North Run, in South Shields in 1994, finishing third in 1:00:42.

After that first experience in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 1992, Paul participated another time in this event: on 24 September 1994, he competed in the third edition, in Oslo, but could manage no better than an eleventh place in 1:01:37.

Now, after winning five world cross country titles, with six victories in the Stramilano and the world best performance in the half marathon (59:17) under his belt; after winning another World Championships silver medal in the 10,000m, Paul is going to Palermo with the aim of writing his name in the annals of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

Ottavio Castellini, who wrote this piece, is the staistics and documentation manager of the IAAF and a longtime friend of Paul Tergat.

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