After a closely run race, Martin Lel won the final sprint to snatch individual gold for Kenya in the men’s race in Vilamoura this morning, while a gutsy run from John Yuda won Tanzania its first ever team gold in the World Half Marathon Championships.
For much of the 21 kilometres of this World Half Marathon Championships, the race had had been dominated by a tightly bunched lead pack of ten athletes, with the East Africa nations of Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania contesting both individual and team honours.
With Tanzania’s John Yuda – who had won bronze in the previous two editions – largely touted as a favourite for the highest step of the podium, the Tanzania team set out determined to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy, going out hard from the start, but unable to detach themselves from the rest of the East African field in the first kilometres.
Just two seconds separated the first 25 runners as the field went through the 5 kilometre mark, with Mesfin Hailu of Ethiopia credited as the first runner on the chip-detecting mat in 14 minutes 37 seconds, but really inseparable from the other 24 athletes among the front runners..
10 kilometres came and there were still 11 runners in the front pack, with Tanzania’s Yuda and Fabiano Joseph in the front and Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea in third position. Abderrahim Goumri from Morocco was the only runner among the leaders not from East Africa. By this time, the leaders, who went through the split in 28:54 had built up a 21 second lead from the following group.
Little had changed by the 15 kilometre mark, though Goumri and Mesfin Hailu had fallen way back and were just in front of the followers, some 43 seconds behind the lead pack, who were timed through this split in 43:26.
Stepping up the pace as the 20 kilometre mark approached and the leaders neared their final turn around the Vilamoura Marina and the home straight, Fabiano Joseph and Martin Hhaway Sulle (TAN) and John Cheruiyot Korir and Lel from Kenya broke away and turned on the gas as they headed for home.
Into the straight to the finish and Lel had the clear advantage, pulling well clear of Joseph and Sulle to take the honours for Kenya in 1:00:49 a new Personal Best.
Personal Bests were also there for the two Tanzanian runners, as Joseph followed Lel across the line in 1:00:52, with Sulle coming in third in just 4 seconds later in 1:00:56.
With relatively little separating the leaders, every second was crucial in determining the team result and John Yuda made a superhuman effort to clinch the team gold for Tanzania as he came in fifth (1:01:13) behind John Cheruiyot Korir of Kenya (1:01:02), but ahead of Kenya’s third fastest, Yusuf Songoka, despite suffering from crippling cramps.
Tanzania won the team competition with a cumulative time of 3:03:01 ahead of Kenya’s 3:03:09, with Ethiopia third with 3:07:34. Worthy of special mention was Eritrea’s fifth place in the team competition with their 3:09:25, from 7th-placed Tadesse, and 23 and 29 placed Menghisteab and Mesfen.
Lel was delighted with his result – his second half marathon win in Portugal: “After winning the Lisbon Half Marathon, I have now taken gold at the World Half Marathon Championships – definitely Portugal is my lucky country!
“I had prepared very well for this race back in Kenya, and was hoping to make the top 6, even though I was feeling very well I knew how string are some of my team mate!
“After 40 minutes into the race, I felt I could win a medal.
“This is the first time I represent Kenya at a World Championship. I am a road specialist, my best time over 5000m on the track is 14 minutes, and I never ran 10,000m on track.
“I have been running since primary school, both my parents were athletes and encouraged me to run. After finishing secondary school, I did very light training and opened a small import-export business. I really enjoyed that, and did it for a year, but then I saw that I could still be number 15 over the half marathon in Kenya, and decided to take up serious training again. The business is still going, someone is taking care of it for me, and I will go back to it after I stop racing.
“I train with Elijah Lagat (winner of Boston Marathon in 2000) and Simon Bor (inner of the Los Angeles Marathon in 1999).
“My best time over the Marathon is 2:10.11 in Venice in 2002 at my debut on the distance. Now I will preparing for New York Marathon in four weeks.”
Fabiano Joseph was not disappointed with his silver medal: “I felt very well coming into the race, and am very happy with this result, especially since I am only 17.
“I knew the Kenyans were very strong, but was ready to die with them and run in 60:00.
“Vilamoura will be my last half marathon this year. Next week I will compete over 10K in a road race in Saint, Denis, Paris, and then will start competing again in the cross country season
Joseph trains regularly with John Yuda and athletes from Kenya.
He comes from the north if Tanzania, from Mbulu district in the Arusha region, and is from the Iraqw tribe (as Filbert Bayi).
Coming into the race, team mate John Yuda had predicted that Joseph would place second, but himself expected to be the winner. In the end Yuda suffered from a contracted right hamstring at 18K, and although he was able to finish the race he was knocked out of contention for the individual world title.