Denis Koech added to his growing global reputation when outpacing reigning IAAF World champion Wilson Kiprop to win the Vattenfall Berlin Half Marathon title on Sunday (1).
Koech, the surprise but fully deserved winner of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in February, clinched a much more closely contested race from Kiprop in the German capital.
After doing plenty of the front running in the latter part of the competition, he produced a winning spurt 300 metres from the line to cross the line in a personal best 59:14.
With his first ever sub-60 minutes clocking, the insertion of pace pulled him a second clear of the pre-race favourite at the line with Ezekiel Chebii making it a clean Kenyan sweep of the podium positions and like them achieving a personal best in a time of 59:22.
The women’s race was also dominated by Kenyan athletes and in another very close finish Philes Ongori headed off Helah Kiprop also by a single second for victory in 1:08:25 with Caroline Chepkwony third in 1:08:36.
In the men’s contest where Kenyan’s Pius Kirop and Paul Kipchumba (19) also went under the one hour barrier - the former for the first time and the latter on his Half Marathon debut - it tailed off early lowering the course record of 58:56 which was set by current World Marathon record holder Patrick Makau in 2007.
A pack of around a dozen at 5km were well down on their target running at 59:45 pace while at 10km where Kiprop had asked the pacemakers to take him through in 28 minutes, they were 26 seconds shy of his request.
The second half with a change of wind direction not surprisingly was much faster with five contenders in the front pack at 15km until two kilometres further down the very flat roads, Koech made a determined move and broke the pack up.
Kiprop was the only contestant to cover the break which saw the fastest split recorded in the 18th kilometre (2:42.7) as he and Koech became engaged in a spirited head-to-head which went to the wire.
"I was not confident of the beating the world champion," said Koech - with Kiprop interpreting - who rather than being an 18-year-old as initially believed, is actually in his mid-20's.
"I'm building my own reputation and not thinking about others," added the training partner of Geoffrey Mutai the reigning Boston and New York Marathon title holder.
"He's given me the experience of running and how to attack," Koech revealed of the advice passed on and which he used so successfully against Kiprop, by the world's fastest ever Marathon runner although his Boston time is not recognised for record purposes.
Kiprop hoping to defend his IAAF World Half Marathon title in the autumn, said: "I was relaxed in the last kilometre and felt even with 50 metros left I could do it. But it didn't happen."
The runner-up, along with Koech determined to win an Olympic 10,000m slot in the Kenyan team this summer and whose previous best time was 59:39, added: That's a big difference and I'm very happy. Now I'll work harder."
Three-way battle in women's race
The women’s race saw the three top finishers running in tandem for almost the entire race until Half Marathon debutant Chepkwony fell behind her rivals as the tempo increased in the final two kilometres.
Kiprop, who set her previous PB of 1:09:29 with her victory in Nice three years ago, then stuck resolutely to her task and even after her much more fancied fellow countrywoman hit the front in the final 200 metres, responded magnificently.
However the strength and speed of Ongori, last year’s Rotterdam Marathon champion, carried her to a thrilling victory while behind Chepkwony, Poland's Karolina Jarzynska was the first European finisher in 1:10:56.
"In the first five kilometres my legs were tired but then they began to respond," said Ongori hoping to return to Europe for the BMW Berlin Marathon in September.
Ongori's whose training partner and elder brother Peter tragically during a race two years revealed her younger brother Nathan has stepped into the vacancy.
"He's also a runner who helps me in my morning sessions and with speed work," she said of the 20-year-old replacement.
Race director Mark Milde was a happy man when for the first time in three years the one hour barrier was bettered mainly because the athletes focused on maintaining the momentum.
After the early pacemaker dropoped out after seven kilometres, Milde said: "The wind was really bothering the runners at the beginning so to get five sub one hour performances and personal bests was something special."
"They all worked as a team, pushing the pace along together and that was eventually good for everyone."
David Martin for the IAAF
1. D Koech (Kenya) 59:14
2. W Kiprop (Kenya) 59:15
3. E Chebii (Kenya) 59:22
4. P Kirop (Kenya) 59:25
5. P Kipchumba (Kenya) 59:53
6. L Langat (Kenya) 1:00:05
7. N Kipkemboi (Kenya) 1:00:15
8, J Kiptum (Kenya) 1:00:26
9. G Kipketer (Kenya) 1:00:34
10. J Kamzee (Kenya) 1:02:56
1. P Ongori (Kenya) 1:08:25
2. H Kiprop (Kenya) 1:08:26
3. C Chepkwony (Kenya) 1:08:36
4. K Jarzynska (Poland) 1:10:56
5. V Chepkemoi (Kenya) 1:11:12
6. A Mayr (Austria) 1:11:49
7. B Naigambo (Namibia) 1:12:40
8. K Papp (Hungary) 1:12:53
9. S Optekamp (Germany) 1:16:45
10. D Degafa (Ethiopia) 1:16:48