Eshetu Wondimu ended Kenya’s win streak at the 30th Vattenfall Berlin Half Marathon on Sunday (28).
The 28-year-old Ethiopian took the men’s race in a fine 60:16, beating Peter Kirui of Kenya by just one second in the final sprint. Ethiopia’s Maregu Zewdie took third place with 60:24. Kenyans had won the race eight times in a row from 2002.
In the women’s race, 21 year-old Pasalia Kipkoech won in 69:43 ahead of her fellow Kenyan Eunice Kales (69:50). Germany’s defending champion Sabrina Mockenhaupt was third with 69:57.
The event attracted a record total entry of 27,501 participants from 94 countries for the race and other parallel events and these competitors had to cope with headwind from time to time, rain showers at the start and temperature around 10 degrees Centigrade. Among the participants were 23,799 runners in the half marathon, watched by around 170,000 fans around the streets of central Berlin. Unfortunately a 43-year-old German runner collapsed and died 500m from the finish although there was immediate first aid.
In the men’s elite race a leading group of 13 runners went through 10 kilometres in 28:39. That was slower than planned, caused in part by the windy conditions and also by the pacemakers falling behind schedule. By the early stages of the race Wondimu had already seized the initiative in an attempt to raise the pace.
The Ethiopian, who had finished runner-up two years ago by just one second, eventually broke away with his compatriot Zewdie, and Kirui. The race was still open till the finishing straight when Wondimu sprinted clear to win by one second.
Before Sunday’s race Wondimu had lost his two fastest half marathons by only one second. Two years ago he was beaten by Patrick Makau Musyoki in Berlin (60:00 to 60:01) and only two weeks ago he once again lost by one second to the Kenyan, when he improved to 59:52 in The Hague. Had he been afraid that something like this might happen a third time when he was running with Zewdie and Kirui in the final kilometre?
“I lost against Patrick twice, but I know he is a very strong runner. So I knew that one day I would also win a race. And I was confident that I could do this today,” Wondimu answered.
“When I saw that the weather wasn’t so good this morning, I knew it would be tough to run under the hour. But I was sure that I would run well because I like Berlin and the race a lot. So I’d love to come back and run the real, - Berlin Marathon on September 26,” said Wondimu, who had been a successful pacemaker in Haile Gebrselassie’s World record breaking Berlin Marathon in 2007.
After that run Haile predicted that Wondimu would be a future world-class runner. And Wondimu has proved him right. Earlier this year he took third behind the winner Gebrselassie in the Dubai Marathon, improving to 2:06:46.
Coming in behind the winner were a further four runners inside 61 minutes. Kenyans Josphat Kamzee (60:55) and Fred Kosgei (60:59) took fourth and fifth place.
In the women’s elite race the race confirmed its status one of the top half marathons anywhere with three performers under 70 minutes.
Early on Kipkoech and Kales went clear of their rivals and when the Kenyan duo reached 10 km in 32:55, they had an 11 second lead over Sabrina Mockenhaupt.
With two kilometres remaining the defending champion Sabrina Mockenhaupt had narrowed the gap to three seconds and almost caught up with Kales who was lagging behind Kipkoech. But the Kenyan women saw Mockenhaupt coming and were able to raise the pace to decisive effect once again.
“I wasn’t sure I would win – I prayed that I would win. Originally I thought that I would have to run 67 minutes to win,” explained Kipkoech.
“I knew early on in the race that I wouldn’t be running a personal best,” said Mockenhaupt. “I would have loved to have won but two-and-a-half-months’ training just wasn’t enough. I lacked competitive steel and stamina.”
Belonging to the elite sports section of the German army Mockenhaupt had to do a two months training spell in November and December 2009. She will now focus on preparing for the 10,000m final at the European Championships in Barcelona this summer. After this she plans to run an autumn marathon.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF
(with help from Andy Edwards)