Mary Keitany, the 2007 silver medallist, moved up to the top rung of the podium this year with a dominant run that took the gold at today’s IAAF / EDF Energy World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham, leading home a Kenyan team triumph in race run in light drizzle and a temperature of 11C.
Keitany, already the fastest half marathoner in the world this year (1:07:00) a full 50 seconds quicker than any of her opponents entered for Birmingham, made her strength tell breaking away from her one persistent opponent, Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebebe between the ninth and tenth kilometre, to score a resounding victory in 1:06:36, the fastest time of her career.
Only the World record run by Lornah Kiplagat in the 2007 edition in Udine, Italy (1:06:25) is faster in the history of these World Half Marathon Championships (NB. 2006 and 2007, this competition was renamed the World Road Running Championships). Keitany had been silver medallist on that occasion in her previous best of 1:06:48.
Today just over a minute behind Keitany came compatriot Philes Ongori (1:07:38) who in a sprint finish with Kebebe took over silver medal position for the first time just 20 metres before the tape. The Ethiopian, who ever since being dropped by Keitany, had been running alone finished one second behind (1:07:39) to take bronze.
Also of note in race when many personal bests were set, half marathon debutant Kim Smith produced an excellent performance in 7th to set a New Zealand record, 1:09:35.
It had been a frustrating 24hours for the diminutive Kenyan who won today. Yesterday morning (10) the 27-year-old had found herself trapped in a lift for nearly an hour when on her way to attend the pre-championships press conference.
And Keitany’s feelings of frustration certainly rose again in the first 30 minutes of her race today, as having set the pace virtually from the gun allowing a pack of six (five Kenyans and one Ethiopian) to break clear, when she looked for someone to share those ‘pacing’ duties nobody wanted to know.
The matter came to a head when roughly after 20 minutes Keitany briefly slowed, and stepped aside to indicate to Kebebe, who had been running right on her heels, that it was now the turn of the Ethiopian to do some work. Kebebe in response immediately slowed unwilling to accept the invitation, and the rebuffed Keitany was obliged to take the lead back or let the race descend into a jog.
Approximately four minutes later, Keitany tried again, this time waving her left arm excitedly and pointing ahead of her with an extravagant gesture to make it clear to her opponent that she really had to share the responsibilities as race leader. But again Kebebe accepted to do nothing!
Now furious Keitany then shouted at Kebebe. Again nothing doing!
Keitany had only one possible answer to such non-cooperation, make a break, and with that decision made in terms of the battle for gold at least that was it! Moments later with 10km passed in 31:04, Kebebe’s legs were already starting to falter in answer to Keitany’s surge.
And the potency of the burst was made apparent when 5km later we were delivered a 15Km split of 46:51 which was four seconds better than the World record set by Japan’s Kayoko Fukushi in 2006 (Marugame, Japan 05/02/2006) but which due to the elevation in this intermediate section of Birmingham's course (15Km was too low in relation to the start) it will not be applicable as a World record. NB. the overall half marathon course is within allowable limits for record purposes.
In terms of the race the decisive damage had been done, the Kenyan had carved out a margin of 40 seconds on the Ethiopian, and that extended to nearly a minute by 20km (1:02:59) and increased even further by the finish which the winner crossed in 1:06:36.
Back down the field the Kenyan team victory was already secure despite the fact that Peninah Arusei had taken a nasty fall with 40 minutes of the race gone, as Caroline Kilel and Philes Ongori who had been running with her when the accident occurred were firmly secure in third and fourth positions, nearly a minute ahead of the next athlete, Ethiopia’s Mestawet Tufa.
Ongori was feeling the best of this pair and with a late drive she began to make up ground on Kebebe, though dropping Kilel in the process, and with less than a kilometre left to run found herself on the Ethiopian’s shoulder, and with a sustained burst of speed was able to get herself into silver medal position with just 20 metres to go to the finish.
"I'm really happy, it's my best ever time, so I'm so happy,” said Keitany. “I had trained well so I hoped to do well here; my coach is pleased I saw him at the finish. I had a baby just 1 year and 3 months ago," referring to the birth of her son Jared.
From frustration to jubilation in the course of a little over an hour, as Keitany receives US$30,000 for the individual victory and a share of the US$15,000 team prize.
Behind Kenya in the team standings came Ethiopia, with European 10,000m champion Inga Abitova in 13th heading up the Russian team’s performance which secured bronze.
Chris Turner for the IAAF