Kenya, as expected, produced a totally dominant performance in the women’s race at the 2014 IAAF/AL-Bank World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen as they reclaimed individual and team honours from their Ethiopian rivals.
Gladys Cherono led them home in a season’s best of 1:07:29 ahead of silver medallist Mary Wacera Ngugi, who clocked a personal best of 1:07:44, and Sally Chepyego Kaptich, who also produced a personal best on this flat and fast course in 1:07:52.
Event favourite Lucy Wangui Kabuu just missed out on individual medals as she clocked 1:08:37, five seconds ahead of Mercy Jerotich Kibarus, who completed for Kenya the historic feat of securing all team members in the top five positions; a first at the World Half Marathon Championships.
The last challenger to drop away from the Kenyan charge, Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta, finished sixth in a personal best of 1:08:46.
The race had got underway in bright sunshine, a temperature of about 14°C lightened by a breeze. And despite her protestations the day before, Italy’s Valeria Straneo was soon pushing the pace at the front, just as she had during the marathon at the previous summer’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
By the second mile the field had elongated, with those around the Italian including Croatia’s Lisa Stublic, but the Kenyans and Ethiopians were waiting.
Shortly before the 5km mark, which was passed in 16:14, the Kenyans made their move. It was overwhelming.
Before long, the camera was lingering on a row of five runners in the same shirts, their arms and legs pumping in unison, issuing the unspoken message: “Pass us if you dare.” Four Ethiopians were ranged behind them, along with Straneo and France’s Christelle Daunay.
But in the event, no one dared – or was in a position to dare. Straneo, determined to stay on an even pace, drifted off the leading group, eventually finishing eighth in 1:08:55. Daunay also found the pace too hot, and eventually took seventh place in 1:08:48.
At about the 12km mark, only Gudeta and Hirut Alemayehu were offering a challenge to the Kenyan quintet, with the latter beginning to fade.
Shortly before the 15km mark the leading group was down to four Kenyans – Cherono, Chepyego, Wacera and Kabuu, with Wacera checking back down the road to see the two Ethiopians disappearing into the distance.
Surprisingly, Kabuu – the fastest half marathoner in the world last year with 1:06:09 – was the one who dropped out of the medal placings. Cherono made her decisive move at the 18km mark, feeling stronger than her two companions, and pressed on for the line.
At the finish line, all five Kenyans embraced each other, enveloped by their national flag. It had been a perfect performance.
Ethiopia took silver behind them in the team event, with bronze going to Japan.
While the world record was never threatened, there were 37 personal bests from the 88 finishers in the women’s race – a testament to the conditions and the course.
Iceland’s Martha Ernsdottir, aunt of world youth 800m champion Anita Hinriksdottir, became the oldest ever competitor at the World Half Marathon championships, finishing 82nd in 1:24:24. The 2000 Olympian had competed at the first edition of the World Half Marathon Championships back in 1992.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF