Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea is the favourite to win the global road running title for a fourth consecutive year at the IAAF / EDF Energy World Half Marathon Championships which take place in Birmingham on Sunday 11 October 2009.
Tadese took the first of his victories in 2007 over the 20km distance at what was then the briefly (for two years) renamed the World Road Running Championships. A year later he won over the half marathon setting his personal best of 58:59 which today is the seventh quickest run of all time on courses applicable for record purposes.
Eritrea’s first ever global champion in any sport went to Rio de Janeiro last year and stomped on the hopes of his opponents with a superb solo run to record his third successive victory and collect another pay cheque of US$30,000. That sum is the winning prize at these annual championships, part of an overall US$245,000 purse available for the top six individuals and teams across the men’s and women’s races.
The 27-year-old Tadese might be seeking his fourth consecutive gold in this event when he takes to the streets of Birmingham on Sunday but he is already a four-time World champion having won the 2007 World Cross Country Championships title as well.
By not finishing his debut marathon in London this spring Tadese cast a slight shadow on his 2009 season but after his World Championships silver medal over 10,000m (26:50.12) in Berlin behind Kenenisa Bekele, anyone who imagines that Tadese, who is also this year’s World Cross Country bronze medallist, is not the firm favourite for gold in Birmingham is seriously deluding themselves.
Tadese led home his country to team silver in Rio de Janeiro but of his four compatriots last time only Teame Yemane who finished 35th in 2008 runs this weekend. However, it would be a surprise if the Eritrean team who have finished runners-up for the last four years did not do so again in Birmingham especially as Ethiopia who last won in 2005 has fielded a relatively low key team, and Qatar, the bronze medallists in Rio, have not entered any runners at all!
Kitwara leads all new Kenyan squad
Tadese, and Eritrea as a whole, face the might of the Kenyan delegation which is a totally new line-up from the squad that took gold last year. While they are without the world’s fastest runner of this year, Patrick Makau, who was individual silver medallist in the last two editions, Kenya have still lined-up a formidable team led by Sammy Kitwara, the winner of the Rotterdam Half Marathon in a PB of 58:58, the second fastest time of 2009.
Another three of the Kenyans entered also have personal bests of sub-60mins. Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich is the third fastest man in the world this year (58:59), and he is joined by Bernard Kiprop Kipyego (59:10) and Wilson Kwambai Chebet (59:15).
Kipyego is a real newcomer taking a magnificent 59:34 debut win at the distance at this year’s Berlin Half Marathon and then a fourth place finish behind Kitwara in Rotterdam, the 59:10 he recorded there making him the sixth fastest in the world in 2009.
Dos Santos approaching best shape?
Aside Tadese, of the top-8 finishers in Rio the only runner to return this year is Brazil’s two-time New York Marathon champion Marilson dos Santos. The 32-year-old who was seventh in the 2007 edition in Udine in a personal best of 59:33, was 16th at the Berlin World Championships over the full distance and in his build-up to a title defence in New York should be approaching his best shape.
Mekonnen, a blast from the past
If Ethiopia is going to mount a serious challenge then it should come from Tilahun Regassa who is only 19-years-old and has a personal best of 59:36 (2008), and from Dereje Tesfaye whose 1:00:02 was set when coming third in The Hague this spring, and he was also recently third in Glasgow too (1:01:44; 6 Sep).
And there is a blast from the past with the reappearance of Hailu Mekonnen on the international stage. Now 29 years old, Ethiopia’s former winner of two World Cross Country short course medals (1999 and 2002) has a personal best for 1500m of 3:33.14, and in his move up to the longer distances finished just ahead of Tesfaye in Glasgow in 1:01:29.
Tanzania’s squad led by 2003 and 2004 silver medallist Fabiano Joseph Naasi (PB 59:56) will be in the hunt for team medals, having last been on the podium in 2003 when they took the team title. Uganda, another team to have tasted success, bronze in 2004, will be led by stalwart Martin Toroitich who was 13th in that year.
Japan's Atsushi Sato, a 2:07 marathoner, who with a 1:00:25 PB is the national record holder for the half marathon is another experienced competitor to watch. Sato, who has a quickest this year of 1:01:29, has run in the World Half Marathon Championships twice before, in 2002 and 2007, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.
Ritzenhein, the dark horse?
Off the radar at the moment in terms of his personal best at the half marathon is USA’s Dathan Ritzenhein, the sixth place finisher at 10,000m at the World Championships in Berlin. The 26-year-old was the surprise of the night on the track over 5000m at this year’s ÅF Golden League meeting in Zürich. There he ran 12:56.27 to finally wipe away the long standing Area record of compatriot Bob Kennedy (12:58.21) set in Zurich on 14 August 1996. Before the race Ritzenhein’s personal best had been 13:16.06, and he is acknowledged to be a much better road racer and so his 1:01:25 personal best from 2006 is surely in for major revision this weekend.
Finally, hosts Britain will be relying on the experienced Andrew Lemoncello (1:05:17) for their best showing though their fastest entrant is Philip Wicks (1:02:51).
Chris Turner for the IAAF