02 APR 2011 General News Prague, Czech Republic

Limo and Cheromei shatter course records at Prague Half Marathon

Lydia Cheromei smashes the Prague Half Marathon record with a 1:07:33 run (Larry Ryan)Lydia Cheromei smashes the Prague Half Marathon record with a 1:07:33 run (Larry Ryan) © Copyright
The holy grail for Half Marathon race directors is to have a sub-60 minutes race. And one of the latest recruits to world class athletics, Philemon Limo of Kenya obliged in the Hervis Prague Half-Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Saturday (2).

Limo, 25, has only been running seriously for two years, and racing at world class for 12 months. But he ran away from three men who have already gone sub-60. He beat Azmeraw Bekele of Ethiopia and his compatriot, Titus Masai by over a minute, clocking a superlative 59:30, and taking 37 seconds off the two-year-old course record, to become the third fastest man of the year at the distance.

His colleague Lydia Cheromei, who in contrast was winning world titles at the age of 13, more than emulated Limo. Her 1:07:33 took exactly a minute and half from the former record, and is the second fastest time in 2011.

Following his own sub-60 - a 59:39 clocking in Holland three weeks ago - Azmeraw was a marginal race favourite, and he set out to justify that claim. The Ethiopian was in the van behind pacemaker Edward Muge in the early stages of the race, along with Masai and another Kenyan, Jairus Chanchima. But Limo was lurking in the background, and stayed with the favourites when a group of five broke away after just five kilometres.

Shortly after halfway, and well on course for that magic mark, the group was down to three, Azmeraw, Masai and Limo. The surprise came less than two kilometres later.  Limo shot away from the more famous pair, and quickly built up a lead, which just grew and grew. The danger was that he had run too fast, and would crack up. But despite temperatures in the low 20s centigrade, and one or two tough gradients coming out of the road tunnels which border the Vltava River, Limo barely missed a step, and came home an easy winner.

The previous record holder, Nicholas Koech, who ran 1:00:07 two years ago, had to withdraw from the race earlier in the week, with an ankle injury. That may have saved him from a fate worse than losing his record, because Limo looked unbeatable today.

Limo’s background in Cross Country running – he was seventh in the recent IAAF World Championships – served him well. And so did his ambition. His only previous Half Marathon (on his first trip outside Kenya) was exactly a year ago, 1:01:25 in Milan.

“But I knew I could run under 60 minutes because my training has been wonderful,” Limo said. “But I think I can do even better than that.”

It is just over 20 years since Cheromei shocked the athletics world by taking the World junior Cross Country title a month or so short of her 14th birthday.  Such brilliance so young often ends in eclipse, and Cheromei did fade away in the following years, even suffering a drugs ban.

But following the birth of daughter Faith, now five, she has returned as a Marathon runner, with a best of 2:23:01 in Dubai in January. She now has an equally good ‘half’ to her name after running away from Belainesh Zemedkun of Ethiopia, and colleague Rose Kosgei, whose course record from 2009 she erased. Zemedkun clocked 1:09:16 for second, and Kosgei was third in 1:09:31.

Enlisted for the Marathon here in Prague in five weeks time, Cheromei said she hoped to do as well. The organisers are already rubbing their hands.

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF

Leading Results -
MEN -
? 1. Philemon LIMO, KEN           59:30
? 2. Azmeraw BEKELE, ETH        1:00:35
? 3. Titus MASAI, KEN           1:00:40
? 4. Henry CHIRCHIR, KEN        1:01:25
? 5. Edward MUGE, KEN           1:01:39
? 6. Hosea MACHARINYANG, KEN    1:02:31
? 7. Boniface KIRUI, KEN        1:02:57
? 8. Jairus CHANCHIMA, KEN      1:03:10
? 9. Gunter WEIDLINGER, AUT     1:03:47
?10. Sammy KURUI, KEN           1:04:59

??WOMEN -
? 1. Lydia CHEROMEI, KEN        1:07:33?
2. Belainesh ZEMEDKUN, ETH    1:09:16?
3. Rose KOSGEI, KEN           1:09:31
? 4. Joyce CHEPKIRUI, KEN       1:11:22
? 5. Christelle DAUNAY, FRA     1:11:22?
6. Emily CHEBET, KEN          1:12:00?
7. Korahubsh ITAA, ETH        1:13:08
 8. Alena SAMOCHVALOVA, RUS    1:16:08 
? 9. Petra KAMÍNKOVÁ, CZE       1:16:57
?10. Ivana SEKYROVÁ, CZE        1:17:09