Zersenay Tadese will set out on the streets of Copenhagen in tomorrow’s IAAF/AL-Bank World Half Marathon Championships seeking to extend his unprecedented run of individual success in this event.
The 32-year-old Eritrean has won five golds and a silver on the past six occasions, but he acknowledges he faces a strong challenge this year from the Kenyan who won the title in 2010, Wilson Kiprop.
“I have prepared well,” he told the official pre-event press conference at the Old Stock Exchange in the Danish capital. “I will try to do my best, although the Kenyans they are very strong.”
He will win himself another athletics honour simply by starting tomorrow by making a record ninth appearance at these championships, moving one ahead of Belgium’s Ronny Ligniel, Russia’s Alina Ivanova and Romanian trio Nuta Olaru, Constantina Dita and Luminita Talpos. But Tadese was giving little away on the subject of how he will set about his latest challenge.
“My tactics will depend on the conditions,” he said. “This is what my coach has told me. I have two or three tactics – but we will see in the race!”
Tadese reacted cautiously to the suggestion that the flat and fast course here might witness a world record, for which there is a $50,000 bonus on offer for both men and women. Asked about the prospects of beating the mark of 58:23 he set in winning the 2010 Lisbon Half Marathon, Tadese responded: “For this race they don’t have pacemakers, so it depends on the athletes. The athletes are coming here for a win, not the time.”
Kiprop made it clear that he was certainly expecting a win, both in the individual and the team event, where Kenya has taken gold on the past six occasions.
“The team is actually very strong,” he said. “If we work together it will be more similar to 2010 when Kenya won the title.”
Kiprop, who missed the 2012 edition of this event because of injury, added: “I have trained really well.
“It was really amazing to win and beat the King of the Half Marathon in 2010,” he said with a grin. “It was a big motivation to me. The race tomorrow will be very tough, very competitive because Zersenay has prepared very well and I have prepared very well also.”
Kiprop acknowledged that he has found inspiration in the efforts of his two fellow Kenyans: Paul Tergat, who is the only man other than Tadese to have won this title more than once, and current world marathon record-holder Wilson Kipsang.
“Both of them add to my motivation,” he said. “They are people we are looking up to.”
Tadese may have performed almost perfectly at the half marathon, but while he clearly loves the event, he stops short of describing it as his perfect distance.
“I like the half marathon very much, but the marathon is another way,” he said. "For the future, I want to do a marathon."
The Eritrean has a respectable marathon best of 2:10:41, set at the London Marathon two years ago, but has yet to translate his successes at the half marathon to the longer event.
Kiprop, who as a marathon best of 2:09:09, set in Prague in 2010, is also keeping his options open with regard to other distances.
“For me I can also run the marathon because I have already run 2:09. After these World Championships I will start to prepare for my next marathon.
“But I am always ready to go back and run shorter distances. When I say I am preparing for the marathon, it doesn’t mean I close the possibilities of going to the track. For me, I am ready to run anywhere!”
While Kenya and Ethiopia look likely to do battle for the main honours in the women’s race – and Japan and China also looking ready to profit – the Italian team is looking towards the athlete who won silver in the marathon at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Valeria Straneo, to challenge for a medal.
The 37-year-old Italian athlete, who will turn 38 next month, made her first worldwide impact in the Russian capital with a bold, front-running effort in which she was only overtaken during the closing stages by Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat.
But do not expect a similar front-running effort tomorrow.
Asked about her prospects of becoming the first European-born winner of this race since Constantina Tomescu of Romania in 2005, Straneo commented: “I just run in my sensation and try to keep a regular pace for all the race. And so tomorrow I will be regular. I don’t like to be fast and slow. I think for me it’s better to be regular. I hope for the last kilometre to be faster!
“It depends on the other girls – if they start too fast I don’t think I would be in front of them. I’ll just keep my pace.
“I have prepared for this half marathon in the last two months. I have already run this distance three times and I hope tomorrow to be in great shape.”
Straneo added that Anna Incerti, Italy’s 2010 European marathon champion, had had to withdraw from these championships. “She is sick,” she said. “It is a great pity. But we will try to achieve a good result anyway.”
Having enjoyed a rise from domestic to international level following the removal of her spleen in 2010 after a medical condition which had increasingly hampered her achieving a healthy blood count, Straneo found it hard to come to terms with her success.
After Moscow last year, she commented: “I still cannot believe I am a top runner.”
Here, with a smile, she revised that opinion. “It’s different because after the silver medal I know that I can compete with strong people, but I always have my feet on the ground and so for me it’s very important to be here. It is a dream. I am very happy.”
Meanwhile Denmark’s former world 800m record-holder and champion Wilson Kipketer, who will be running in the mass event, has predicted that, whoever wins, the race will be swift.
“It’s going to be fast,” Kipketer said. “The weather is going to be good. My advice to the athletes is to run fast, break the record. That’s what we are looking for. I will be just behind you – I have been training hard!”
The last word went to Tadese, who had a successful career in cycling before he took up running seriously in his late teens. Copenhagen, a city full of orderly cyclists, is working well for him.
“It is a very nice city and the people are very friendly,” Tadese said. “The people enjoy cycling. It is very healthy to cycle.”
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF