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Chepkemei and Ramaala win Lisbon Half Marathon

Duncan Mackay for IAAF

1 April 2001 - Susan Chepkemei ran the fastest ever time for a half-marathon by a woman to beat a field which included the Olympic 10,000 metres champion Derartu Tulu in Lisbon today.

The Kenyan recorded 65min 44sec, 59 seconds quicker than Japan’s Masako Chiba clocked at the Tokyo half-marathon in 1997, to earn a bonus of $150,000 from the organisers. But it is unlikely the statisticians will recognise Chepkemei’s time as a world best because the Lisbon course is downhill.

That should not be allowed to detract from a performance which saw the 25-year-old Chepkemei outclass a field which was arguably among the strongest ever assembled for a race over 13.1 miles. As well as Tulu, she also beat former world half-marathon champions Tegla Loroupe and Elana Meyer.

Such was the depth of the women’s race that Tulu ran 67.03, more than a minute quicker than in the corresponding event last year, but could finish only third as Lornah Kiplagat came second in 66.34, also under Chiba’s world best. Loroupe, winner of the race three times in the previous four years, was fourth in 68:16.

With temperatures in the mid-70s on beautiful windless day, the race was a duel between Chepkemei, who is from the same Pokot tribe as Loroupe, and Kiplagat from the start on the Ponte de 25 Abril Bridge which spans the River Targus in the Portuguese capital. Tulu briefly remained in touch but was quickly dropped.

The decisive move from Chepkemei came after 18 kilometres when she moved ahead of Kiplagat, driving on powerfully towards the finish cheered on by many of the 26,000 recreational runners she passed on the other side of the road.

"I’m very happy," she said. "I knew I could run a world best when I passed 10 kilometres in 31.20 and pushed on from there."

Chepkemei was at least grateful that the newly crowned IAAF World Cross Country champion Paula Radcliffe had decided not to accept the organisers invitation to run here. The Briton had beaten her into second place at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Veracruz last November and had finished ahead of her in Ostend last weekend when Chepkemei had finished fourth in the long race. It is hard, though, to see anyone finishing ahead of Chepkemei in the Rotterdam Marathon on April 22.

Such was the quality of Chepkemei’s performance that even the men’s race boasting the great Paul Tergat was totally overshadowed. Tergat was forced to accept a rare defeat as, for once, South Africa’s Hendrik Ramaala got the better of him to win by a second in 60.26.

Tergat’s challenge died in the final 300 metres after he was nearly forced to stop running when he was presented with a sharp U-turn. "I couldn’t pick up the pace again," the Kenyan said. "But I am very, very happy and surprised I ran that fast because I am in very heavy training."

Tergat’s main focus for the spring is his marathon debut in London on April 22 where he will renew a rivalry with Ramaala that has seen him finish a step ahead of the Johannesburg law graduate in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 1998 and 1999. Tergat also beat Ramaala in this race last year when they ran 59.06 and 59.20, the two fastest times ever for the distance.

"It’s nice to win and a bonus to beat Paul because he is one of the all-time great runners," said Ramaala.

Behind Ramaala and Tergat came Kenya’s Evans Rutto in 60:30 while the local favourite, Portugal’s Antonio Pinto, finished eighth in 61.16. Like Ramaala and Tergat, he is running the London Marathon. It should be a fascinating contest.

Men: 1 Hendrik Ramaala (South Africa) 60.26; 2, Paul Tergat (Kenya) 60.27; 3, Evans Rutto (Kenya) 60.30; 4, William Kiplagat (Kenya) 60.38; 5, Christopher Cheboiboch (Kenya) 60.45

Women: 1, Susan Chepkemebi (Kenya) 65.44; 2, Lornah Kiplagat (Kenya) 66.34; 3, Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) 67.03; 4, Tegla Loroupe (Kenya) 68.16; 5, Edith Masai (Kenya) 68.27