Nanning, ChinaLiving up to her favourite’s role, Florence Kiplagat kicked away from Dire Tune over the final 800 metres to capture an impressive victory at the IAAF / SINOPEC World Half Marathon Championships in Nanning, China, today (16).
Running in just her second Half Marathon, the 23-year-old Kenyan clocked 1:08:24 in hot and humid conditions to collect her second global title, adding to her triumph at the 2009 World Cross Country Championships.
“It was not easy with strong competition today,” said Kiplagat, whose debut over the distance came just over a month ago in Lille, France. There she clocked an impressive 1:07:40 but time mattered little for her here today.
“The climate today was not easy, so I wasn’t worried about the time,” she added, noting in particular the 69 percent humidity at the start which dropped just a bit to 65 percent at the finish.
Kiplagat’s victory, the second straight individual title for Kenya, also propelled her nation to the team title, its fourth in the last five years and eighth overall. As expected, their chief rival was Ethiopia, the 2008 team champion, who were forced to settle for a fourth silver medal finish in the past five editions of these championships. But the battle they waged was a fierce one from the start.
From the gun, a sea of green
With its sprawling parks and tree-lined streets and boulevards, Nanning is touted as China’s Green City. Fittingly and from the outset, the battle at the front featured the various shades of green found on the Kenyan and Ethiopian team vests.
Just beyond the first kilometre marker, four Kenyans – Kiplagat, Peninan Arusei, Sarah Chepchirchir, and Joyce Chepkirui – were just a stride ahead of all five of Ethiopia’s entrants: Dire Tune, Feyse Tadese, Fate Tola, Abebech Afework, and Meseret Mengistu.
A kilometre later the only runner in the lead pack not hailing from east Africa was Nikki Chapple of Australia, who incidentally, was also sporting green.
The pace was quick and steady, with the leading ten charging though the first five kilometres in 15:53, only the fourth time in the history of these championships that the opening 5K was covered in under 16 minutes. The only change over the next three kilometres, as the leaders passed the 12 Pillars of the impressive Guangxi People’s Hall, came at the back, with Chapple dropping off the pace and forced into a no man’s land, some 20 seconds ahead of the chase pack.
With the temperature already topping 21 C (70 F) and rising, the pace slowed several notches, as the gang of nine reached the 10 kilometre marker in 32:32. That proved too much for Chepchirchir and who was the first to drop, and would eventually finish a distance 11th.
By 15 kilometres (48:42) the field was whittled down to just four - Kiplagat, Tadese, Tune and Arusei, with Tola drifting about four seconds behind and fading with every stride. About five minutes later the real race began when it came down to just Kiplagat and Tune.
Tune, a profilic road racer who was run more than a dozen marathons, shadowed Kiplagat who despite running at or near the front throughout, clearly looked the stronger of the two. Shortly after the pair crossed the 20 kilometre point in 1:05:06, Kiplagat began to pull away for good to break the tape unchallenged.
Tune, who clocked 1:08:34, was pleased with her first medal in international competition.
“The conditions were not very good, so I was happy with second place," said Tune, the 2008 Boston Marathon winner. "I’m very satisfied in these conditions.”
Arusei finished third in 1:09:05 to take the bronze, also her first international medal.
“I tried three times for a medal and this was my day,” said Arusei, a three-time winner of the Berlin 25K, who at 31 was the veteran on the team. Her 23-second margin over Tadese, fourth in 1:09:28, was the key difference in the team battle, won by Kenya in 3:26:59, ahead of Ethiopia’s 3:27:33.
Teenager Chepkirui, who lagged behind in sixth for a large portion of the race, moved up a notch over the final kilometre to reach the line in 1:09:30, just one second ahead of Ethiopian Mengistu. Both clocked career bests, as did Tola, who was seventh in 1:09:38.
Japan (3:33:40), led by Yoshimi Ozaki’s ninth place finish in 1:11:02, took team bronze for the fifth consecutive year. Australia, led by Chapple’s 12th place finish, took fourth in 3:40:14.
After running conservatively for much of the race, Zhu Xiaolin closed well to finish eighth in 1:11:01 and lead China to eighth overall in the team standings.
A total prize money purse of $245,000 (122,500 each for the men's and women's races) was on offer, paid to the first six finishers. with $30,000 going to the individual winners. Teams were gunning for a $15,000 first place prize.
The next World Half-Marathon Championships will be held in the Kavarna, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea coast, in 2012.
>>Click here for full results<<
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF