BerlinWind gusts, slight snow showers and hail could not stop the Kenyans in the 23rd Bewag Berlin Half Marathon this afternoon, but what was probably the worst weather in the history of the race did slow the pace and shattered hopes for much faster times.
Still Paul Kirui did an amazing job, running 61:05 to win the race and continue Kenya’s success in Germany’s biggest and fastest half marathon. It was the seventh time that the winner came from Kenya in nine years. Last year, Kenyans took a record first 13 places, this time they took the first eight.
In the women’s race Magdaline Chemjor continued Kenya’s winning streak, making it five in a row now. Chemjor, who was fifth in last week’s long course race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, ran 71:12. It was only when it started to hail during the last part of the race that she slowed.
Nearly 14,000 runners from 63 nations took part in the Berlin Half Marathon, where Fabián Roncero (Spain) had run a European best time of 59:52 two years ago.
“For the first five kilometres it was only about warming up. We ran as we are used to in training”, Paul Kirui said.
It was then that Janne Holmen was leading the race. “I was trying to run my own pace throughout the race. But in the later stages it was difficult because of the wind – I had hoped for a faster time”, said the Finnish surprise of the European Championships. It was in Munich last year, when Janne Holmen won the marathon.
In Berlin, Holmen was again the best of the Europeans, but the competition was of course less strong. Finally, in 9th place Holmen ran 64:20. He will not run a marathon in spring but plans to do one in autumn.
“Very suddenly the race became much faster”, Janne Holmen recalled. He immediately lost contact. That was at around 6k, when the Kenyans decided that it was enough warming up now.
Paul Kirui and James Kwambai, who both had travelled to Berlin from Dr. Rosa’s training camp near Brescia, dramatically increased the pace and the leading group of nine athletes broke up.
After the slow pace with split times of more than three minutes for the first few kilometres, splits were suddenly around ten seconds faster. While the 5k point was reached after 14:56 minutes, the next five kilometres were run in 14:05 (29:00 for 10k).
Robert Cheboror, who ultimately snatched second place a second ahead of Kwambai in 61:55, was then running in a small group with Isaac Macharia and Christopher Torotich, ten seconds behind the leading duo.
Kirui and Kwambai kept the pace high, but between 13 and 14k on Berlin’s famous shopping mile Kurfürstendamm, Kirui left his last rival behind. Reaching the 15k point in 43:07, the 23-year-old seemed to be even on course for the fastest time of the year so far (60:21).
“But instead of fighting against my rivals I had to fight against the wind”, Kirui said. He slowed and just missed a time sub 61 minutes in the end. “I had really hoped for good weather. And I think in better conditions I might have been able to run about 45 seconds faster.”
Still Paul Kirui was happy. “This was my biggest success so far”, he said, after reaching the finish just in time before it started to hail for the first time.
At school the athlete from Eldoret had not much interest in running. “I was playing football in my schooldays, wearing the shirt with number 11 on it.” It was after school, when he joined a training group. Three years ago Dr. Gabriele Rosa brought him to Europe for the first time.
Could Paul Kirui become Rosa’s next strong marathon runner? “I have not yet decided when I might move up to the marathon – at present the half marathon is my favourite distance.”
In the women’s race Magdaline Chemjor was setting the pace right from the beginning. Having reached 5 k after 16:31 minutes, Lenah Cheruiyot was still in a group with some men, led by Chemjor. Having won the 25k race for the last two years, the Kenyan is quite familiar with the Berlin roads.
“It is a pity that the weather was so bad, because it is a fast course. And I had hoped to run between 68 and 69 minutes”, Chemjor said.
Already at 10 k (32:56) she was 29 seconds clear of Cheruiyot. In the end she was 48 seconds ahead of Cheruiyot (72:00). Slightly limping after finishing, Chemjor was not suffering a muscle injury. “I was running with new shoes”, Chemjor surprisingly admitted.
Normally joggers are always taught not to do so, but it doesn't seem unusual for some elite athletes. It was last year in Berlin when Naoko Takahashi revealed that she had won the Berlin Marathon wearing new shoes.
For Chemjor the new shoes caused some problems during the last part of the race. “I had some pressure on my instep. But that was not the reason for slowing in the last part of the race – I slowed because of the snow.” There shouldn’t be snow next month, when Magdaline Chemjor intends to come back to Berlin for the 25k race.
While Joyce Chepchumba had cancelled her start due to a cold, Rodgers Rop and Christopher Cheboibok withdrew because of the bad weather. The Boston and New York Marathon winner Rop had come with Cheboibok to their Detmold training base from Kenya just a couple of days ago. When they awoke on Saturday morning the surroundings were all covered with snow. They then decided not to travel to Berlin, fearing they might catch a cold. “Of course it is a blow for us. But I can understand this, because for them the Boston Marathon is the real important race”, said Mark Milde, Berlin’s elite manager.
Jörg Wenig of the IAAF
1. Paul Kirui KEN 61:05
2. Robert Cheboror KEN 61:55
3. James Kwambai KEN 61:56
4. Isaac Macharia KEN 62:36
5. Christopher Torotich KEN 63:00
6. Christopher Kandie KEN 63:39
7. Moses Tanui KEN 63:40
8. Barnabas Kenduiywo KEN 64 :14
9. Janne Holmen FIN 64 :20
10. Joseph Ngeny KEN 64 :47
1. Magdaline Chemjor KEN 71:12
2. Lenah Cheruiyot KEN 72:00
3. Carmen Siewert GER 73:55
4. Serap Aktas TUR 75:07
5. Zivile Balciunaite LTU 75:48
6. Sylvia Renz GER 75:56