Kenyan Paul Kirui and Morocco's Hafida Izem were the winners of the 30th Rome-Ostia Half Marathon, held today in hard weather conditions from the city of Rome to the Ostia Lido.
Kirui closed out the race in 60:22, the best time of the year, just 16 seconds off the course record set by Robert Cheruiyot in 2002 (60:06).
The 7000 runners found the snow to welcome them, an event you hardly ever expect to see in Rome. Snow had paralyzed the whole of Northern Italy on Saturday and so the double World Championships Marathon bronze medallist Stefano Baldini, was only able to arrive in Rome just after midnight by train, because Bologna Airport was closed. Many other participants had similar problems to reach the capital.
However, when the race started, the snow became rain and Baldini was at once leading the pack. The official rabbit was Philemon Kipkering, who last year was second (1:01:21) ahead of the Italian. In few kilometres the first pack was formed - Kipkering, Baldini, Kenya's Paul Kirui and Yusuf Songoka, another Italian Daniele Caimmi (6th at Worlds in Paris) and, surprisingly, Antonello Petrei.
Unexpectedly Kirui, the favourite of the race, as last year he won half marathons in Berlin (1:01:05 in a very rainy race) and Vitry-sur-Seine (1:00:52 PB), made the first break after just 4 km, when the course was uphill.
"I didn't fear the uphill stretch, because I usually train in very hard courses," said Kirui after the race. He was born and lives in Marakwet, where he trains with the group of former New York and Boston Marathon champion Joseph Chebet.
At 5 km (14:27 the split) Baldini and Caimmi was able to join Kirui with the others. But 2 km later Kirui pushed the pace again, and this was the decisive attack. Songoka tried to follow the countryman, while Baldini and Caimmi lost some meters. The leader crossed 10 km line in 28:57. At that point his advantage was 15 seconds over Songoka and 20 over Italian couple.
At 11 km Baldini dropped Caimmi. Kirui's split at 15 km was 42:46, and neither the wind in last 3 kilometers slowed down his pace. His final time, 1:00:22, was his PB.
He finished 1:20 ahead of Songoka, while Baldini couldn't catch the Kenyan and ended 6 seconds down. Then arrived Caimmi and Kipkering. For the 6th place Italian Danilo Goffi won the sprint from the second pack.
Kirui seeks spring Marathon debut
"I knew to be in a very good shape, but even I could not expect to run such a great time," said 23 year-old Kirui. "Now I will run another half marathon in Paris and then in April or May I will make my debut on the full marathon. I hope to run faster than 2:10". Of course he seems to be able to reach his goal.
"I suffered very much," said Caimmi. "I am in good shape, but I could not run well with such a cold". He is going to leave to Namibia next week, together with Baldini, for the second part of their stage, after they were in Windhoek last January as well.
Caimmi will run the Boston Marathon, while Baldini will tackle the London race, where he aimed at improving last year's 2nd place.
"After 15 km my legs became hard," said Baldini. "In last kilometres I hardly ran under 3 minutes. I hope to do something better in London and, of course, in Athens".
Izem's solo PB takes women's title
The women's race was a solo effort by 24 year-old Izem, who immediately dropped Italian Marathon champion Anna Incerti, Rosalba Console and Slovenia's European 2002 Cross Country champion Helena Javornik.
Izem's pace was irresistible. The first 5 km was run in 16:45. At 10 km (33:44) she had 40 seconds over the trio. The gap widened to 1 minute at 14 km, when back in the second pack Javornik lost contact with the Italians.
The Moroccan crossed the finish line with his new PB (1:10:39). Her previous PB was 1:12:08. For over a year she has lived in Italian city of Matera and he is improving very much. "Today I could run faster with a better day. Within two weeks I will run the debutant Treviso Marathon," said Izem, who is on the list of candidates for the Moroccan Olympic team
In an exciting home-rivalry, Incerti first was dropped, then caught and out-sprinted Console, who will run again in Rome for the full marathon next month. Then she will try to make the team for Athens Olympic marathon, as she did not finish the race last year in the World Championships in Paris. Javornik was 4th ahead of Italian Marcella Mancini.
RESULTS (21,097 KM)
1. Paul Kirui KEN 1:00:22
2. Yusuf Songoka KEN 1:01:42
3. Stefano Baldini ITA 1:01:48
4. Daniele Caimmi ITA 1:02:28
5. Philemon Kipkering KEN 1:02:56
6. Danilo Goffi ITA 1:03:58
7. Tuomo Lehtinen FIN 1:03:59
8. Denis Curzi ITA 1:03:59
9. Samson Tuiyange KEN 1:04:02
10. Antonello Petrei ITA 1:04:02
1. Hafida Izem MAR 1:10:39
2. Anna Incerti ITA 1:12:04
3. Rosalba Console ITA 1:12:05
4. Helena Javornik SLO 1:13:04
5. Marcella Mancini ITA 1:13:57