After finishing second in the two previous IAAF World Half Marathon championships Tanzania's 19 year old sensation Fabiano Joseph Naasi scored his first major victory today with a time of 1:01:08.
Even so, it was only a disastrous miscalculation by Mubarak Hassan Shami that allowed the Tanzanian to claim the 14th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.
Approaching the finish line the Qatar runner raised his arms in victory and slowed to cross the line. As he did so, Joseph slipped past to claim the gold medal and the $30,000 US first prize. Renata Canova, the Italian coach of the Qatari team was visibly angry at his athlete's elementary slip up which cost him not only international glory but $15,000 US in prize money.
The bronze medal went to little known Yonas Kifle of Eritrea in 1:01:14 who outsprinted the pre-race favourite Sileshi Sihine. The Ethiopian was credited with the same time.
The weather conditions probably contributed to the surprising results as runners woke up to near freezing temperatures. By the 11:30 a.m. race start it was still only 6 degrees with a steady downpour leaving puddles across the pavement and making areas of the course slippery.
On the first of four and a half laps it was Sihine, the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist who pushed the pace with Ethiopian teammate Abebe Dinkesa Negera before settling back in the pack. Joseph was never far from the front but allowed Shami to do most of the spade work. Indeed, they passed 10km in 28:48 and 15km in 43:28 with Shami in front most of the time.
"I am very happy with this race because the Ethiopian and Qatari were very tough," said the winner. "I was very prepared for this race. I am happy to win it."
"This time I was prepared I really trained for this, In 2003 and 2002 I was second so I really wanted to win this time. I am training in Arusha, Tanzania with John Yuda, just the two of us.”
Acknowledging he had beaten athletes with much faster times -Sihine for instance has a 10,000m track personal best of 26:39.69 - Joseph smiled. "I am good for road races but I am not good for track races.”
Covered by an aluminum foil blanket and huddled under a overhead heater the silver medalist reacted good naturedly to the day’s occurence.
"I was thinking I had won the race," said Shami, who was born Richard Yatich in Kenya, "I thought the Tanzanian was back. I didn’t see him. It is obvious in a competition you dont know who is the winner until you cross the line."
"This is a first." he said, laughing. "I am not disappointed. A compeition is like that. You cannot say “I am the winner” when you don’t know who is out there. The course is very nice but the weather was very very cold."
Ethiopia won the team gold medal, their top three runners scoring a cumulative time of 3:06:18 while the silver medal went to Eritrea whose top runner, Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Zersenay Tadesse was a no-show. A back injury and visa problems kept him at home in Madrid. Japan won the bronze medal.
Paul Gains for the IAAF