The women’s race at the IAAF / EDF Energy World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham on Sunday 11 October 2009 boasts the appearance of the world’s quickest runner of 2009, Kenyan Mary Keitany, who was the silver medallist in 2007.
Keitany, 27, took her place on the podium in a personal best of 1:06:48 on the heels, albeit somewhat distantly, of the World record performance of the Netherlands’ Lornah Kiplagat (1:06:25) in Udine, Italy. Sadly Kiplagat, the reigning three-time World champion is sidelined with a serious knee and so cannot bid for a fourth consecutive title this weekend.
Stepping out of Kiplagat’s shadow this Sunday, however unfortunately achieved, Keitany has an ideal opportunity to blossom into the top global talent which she has so long promised to become. Currently the fastest of the year thanks to her 1:07:00 victory in Lille, France on 5 September, Keitany is a full 50 seconds quicker this year than any of her opponents entered for Birmingham.
So can Keitany confidently take an advance on Sunday’s race winner’s pay cheque of US$30,000 and go shopping on Saturday in Birmingham’s famous Bullring shopping centre?
Kietany has run very little this year whereas the nearest to her on the world season’s lists, Japan based compatriot Philes Ongori, has by comparison run prolifically and is the fourth quickest runner of the year thanks to her 1:07:50 which she clocked in the RAK Half Marathon at the end of February.
Also included in the women’s team is another Japan-based regular Filomena Cheyech whose 1:08:44 win in Yamaguchi on 15 March makes her the twelfth quickest this season. Another good racer is Peninah Arusei, who was fifth in Rio de Janeiro last year and is the only survivor of that Kenyan squad to be running in Birmingham. Arusei’s best this year is the 1:08:47 which she ran in Milan on 5 April.
The Kenyan line-up is completed by Caroline Cheptanui Kilel who was 16th in the 2005 World Half Marathon in 2005 placing 16th, and won in a personal best in Glasgow, Scotland in 1:09:03 on 6 September.
Seven paragraphs into a preview of a world championship and with the exception of the injured reigning champion, who was born a Kenyan, we have yet to have spoken of another country except for Kenya.
Is this outrageous bias?
No it is simply the reality of this year’s women’s race, which with Britain’s former three-time champion Paula Radcliffe sadly pulling out this week with tonsillitis, has left this race open to the mercy of the prodigiously talented Kenyans.
That said, last year we were surprised when arch-rivals Ethiopia took the team title in Rio, and once again they will be the chief barrier to a Kenyan sweep of all the silverware that is on offer, individual or team.
Abebu Gelan, who finished sixth last year, is the fastest non-Kenyan on the entry list. The 19-year-old Ethiopian’s 1:07:57 which positions her fifth on the season’s list was achieved when finishing fourth in the swift Ras Al Khaimah race on 20 February, a competition which currently dominates the 2009 world standings. If only the Ethiopians had been able to field the winner and runner-up from that race, Dire Tune and Aselefech Mergia, there would be no talk now of Kenyan domination in Birmingham. Without Tune, fourth in 2006, and Mergia, second last year, the Ethiopian challenge is severely weakened. However, as well as Gelan they can look to Aberu Kebebe (1:08:43) from their squad to hold up honour.
Japan, who have taken the bronze medal for the last four years, look able to challenge for the silver this time-out with last year’s 10th placer Yukiko Akaba (1:08:11) and the experienced Yurika Nakamura (1:09:20) leading their charge. Nakamura was a World track finalist at the 5000m and 10,000m in Berlin.
Russia, another regular team medal winner over the years, silver in 2005 was their last podium place, has assembled an habitually strong contingent which notably includes European 10,000m champion Inga Abitova (1:11:24). However, the thrust of their challenge should be provided by last month’s Berlin city marathon runner-up Silviya Skvortsova who holds a 1:09:17 PB, and 39-year-old Irina Timofeyeva, whose PB of 1:09:29 was set when coming 14th in the 2007 edition of these championships.
36-year-old Lidia Simon of Romania, the 2001 World Marathon champion, is the most decorated of all the runners in Birmingham in terms of the World Half Marathon having accumulated eight medals (team and individual). She took team gold in 1996 and 1997, the year’s in which she was respectively individual silver and bronze medallist. She grabbed a further bronze in 1998 as part of her country’s overall silver medal showing, and then took a third bronze in 2000 to lead home another team gold for her country. Simon has a personal best of 1:08:34 from way back in 2000 but this year has only mustered 1:13:01.
Romania’s bid for success will be assisted by another past multiple team medallist Nuta Olaru, three years older than Simon, who has a PB of 1:09:00 (2002) and has clocked 1:11:43 this year in Seattle. What Simon is to medals, Olaru is to participation as when she runs this weekend she will become the fourth woman to have taken part in a record 8 editions of the World Half Marathon Championships.
Long established faces such as Serbia’s Olivera Jevtic (1:09:18 PB; 1:12:20 best in 2009), the European Marathon silver medallist, who was fourth back in the 1998 World Half Marathon and sixth in 2002, and Mexico’s Maria Rodriguez (1:10:30 PB) who again is been much slower this year (1:12:38) could feature.
The biggest chance for a shock could come from New Zealand’s experienced track runner Kimberley Smith, 8th at the World championships 10,000m in Berlin who holds an array of Area and national records on the track, whose move onto the roads could be of international interest.
Without Radcliffe it looks like the host team from Britain will just have to use these championships for experience as their fastest entrant is Michelle Ross-Cope (1:12:35).
Chris Turner for the IAAF