Paul Kosgei in Ras Al Khaimah (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
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Impressive field gathered for Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon

Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab EmiratesIf anyone doubted the publicity value of bringing a major sports event to a little known venue, look no further than the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon. When Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya won the inaugural race last year in 58:53, two seconds faster than Haile Gebrselassie’s then World record, the name of the second smallest of the United Arab Emirates went round the world.

Follow that, as they say! Well, a few of Wanjiru’s Kenyan colleagues, notably last year’s runner-up, Patrick Makau, and Paul Kosgei have taken up the baton for Friday’s (8-Feb) race.

Makau is third on the all-time list at the distance, with a best of 58:56, from Berlin last year, and has ‘gone’ sub-60 four times. But Kosgei, sixth all-time, is eager to make a return to top form after two years of inconsistency following a hamstring injury in 2005.

Kosgei, 29, had an explosive start to his career, setting a World junior record in the 3000m Steeplechase, and finishing third in the World cross junior race within a year of starting in serious competition, in 1996. He followed that with three individual medals in the World cross short race before the turn of the century, and graduated to a 59:58 winning ‘half’ in the Great North Run in 2002. He repeated that time in the Lisbon race two years later, but then missed the whole year, from early 2005 with the injury.

A winning return in the Berlin ‘half’ in 2006, and improvement to 59:07 augured well, but the injury returned last year, despite nursing it through a 2:09:30 Marathon in Amsterdam. But now, he says, he’s ready for the fray again.

“I hope to run under 60(min) on this course. My shape is good now, I’m going well, and I have no problems.” No running problems, that is.

Athletes struggle as unrest in Kenya continues

Kosgei is a member of the Army team, which trains at Ngong near the capital Nairobi, but when he says he hasn’t been back home to Eldoret for a while, that conceals a problem of a completely different order.

To those of us who have enjoyed not only the prodigious running talents of generations of Kenyan athletes, but also their genteel manners and relaxed attitude, the murderous riots in and around Eldoret – the heartland of Kenyan running – following the disputed national elections have been a source of disbelief and pain.

For those on the ground, it has been a hundredfold, with several athletes being threatened or injured, and former Olympian Lucas Sang paying the ultimate price. It has certainly caused problems for some of the leading contenders for the women’s race here in RAK, as the tiny Emirate is called locally.

Pamela Chepchumba, whose home is in Eldoret itself says, “I have had to drive as far as a hundred kilometres away, to train in peace. I would say that I am only doing about 45% of my usual training, because of the problems.”

Chepchumba v. Timbilil in women’s contest

Although her colleague, Alice Timbilil lives in Mosoriot, 40 kilometres  from Eldoret, she too is being cautious, especially now her husband and training partner, Mark Sinyei is injured. “He follows me in the car when I run now. But it is awkward, we can train only from our home, and I am not doing as much training as before.”

In running terms, Chepchumba has had the edge on Timbilil in recent competition, finishing third in the IAAF World Road Running Championships in October, in 68:02, to Timbilil’s ninth, and outsprinting her in the Philadelphia ‘half’ earlier in Autumn.

They are co-favourite for the $25,000 first prize, from an overall prize pot of more than $200,000, which the organisers say makes RAK, the world’s richest Half-Marathon.

Other contenders for the men’s top prize are two more sub-60 men, Dieudonné Disi of Rwanda, and Mekubu Mogosu of Kenya; and former world ‘half’ champion Fabiano Joseph of Tanzania. An intriguing entry, in what he maintains is his first serious race after nearly five years out due to injury is Million Wolde of Ethiopia, the Olympic 5000 metres champion from Sydney 2000.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF