Kicking from a tight four man pack in the 57th minute, Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea successfully defended his title at the 2nd IAAF World Road Running Championships in Udine, Italy, today.
Tadese, also the reigning World Cross Country champion, covered the Half Marathon distance in 58:59, a national and championships record, comfortably holding off Kenyan Patrick Makau Musyoki’s (59:02) homestretch rally by three seconds. Evans Cheruiyot was third (59:05) and Ethiopian Deriba Merga, who along with Tadese controlled much of the race’s tempo, was fourth (59:16).
Blazing from gun
Taking advantage of the near ideal conditions and fast course, the race was swift from the outset.
The lead quartet set the tone from the gun, leading a pack of eight through the five kilometre marker in 13:55 before setting off at a blazing tempo, reaching 10 kilometres in 27:35 to leave the now strung-out group of would-be challengers some 10 seconds adrift. Clearly, the key players had no intention to let the race become a sluggish tactical affair.
At the midway point, Tadese and Merga ran stride-for-side with Musyoki and Cheruiyot a step or two behind appearing at first to be struggling to hold on.
Still forging onwards, the quartet made the chase for the 15km World record a valiant one before reaching the marker in 41:35, just five seconds shy of Samuel Wanjiru’s 41:29 set earlier this year. The marks were national records for both Tadese and Merga, but the pair, still running at the front, and with the Kenyan duo hot on their heels, were hardly content to rest on those laurels.
A few minutes later, Cheruiyot looked to be the next casualty of the pace, dropping back some eight to 10 metres, and apparently out of the running.
But near the start of the third and final lap that snaked through the charming streets of this northeast Italian city, Tadese tapped the brake pedal a few times to lessen the tempo. The move was hardly an indication that he was running out of steam.
“The last lap was always going to be slow because no one was prepared to help me (with the pace),” Tadesse said.
Cheruiyot bounced back from the deficit and was back with the leading three at 20 kilometres (56:13), just as the 25-year-old Tadese made his decisive break. With less than a kilometre to go, Tadese injected a surge that would prove insurmountable, thrilling the crowd of 200 or so Eritrean fans who lined the finish straight.
With his victory, Tadese joined not only the event’s still-exclusive sub-59 minute club, but also all-time great Paul Tergat as the only repeat winner of these championships, taking into account the World Half Marathon Championships, which began in 1992. And faster times, and perhaps even an assault on the World record, are not out of the question.
“Maybe I’ll try for the World record soon,” Tadese said, before understating, “I’m certainly in that shape.”
Musyoki, who arrived in Udine with three sub-60 minute performances to his credit this season, didn’t disappoint with his runner-up finish.
“No. 2 in these World Championships is good for me,” said the 22-year-old who is based in Scotland six months out of the year. “It was a lot of effort to remain with (Tadese) so I must be content.”
The late race rally by Cheruiyot awarded the 26-year-old with the remaining podium spot.
“This is the second time I’ve raced here,” said Cheruiyot, winner of the 2006 Udine Half Marathon, “and I tried my very best. Why am I so happy with the bronze? Because this is my first time at any World Championships.”
Also making his first appearance in a Kenyan team vest was the World record holder Wanjiru, but the 20-year-old phenom struggled throughout. Running with a knee injury, the fast initial pace took its toll early on. A distant eighth and 18 seconds behind at 10km, he eventually crossed the line 51st, clocking 1:03:31. He's already made a Monday morning appointment with his physician.
With Robert Kipchumba’s 15th place showing (1:00:47), Kenya nonetheless retained their team crown, clocking 2:58:54, edging Eritrea (2:59:08) and Ethiopia (3:01:15).
In a deep finish, the first seven finishers dipped under 60 minutes, with an additional 10 stopping to clock in under 1:01:00. Dieudonne Disi, sixth in 59:32, set a new Rwandan national record while Marilson Dos Santos of Brazil clocked a 59:33 South American record. For the latter, it was a performance that bodes particularly well as his wraps up his preparation to defend his title at next month’s ING New York City Marathon.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
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