Today marks 30 days to go to the IAAF World Half Marathon championships Valencia 2018, set for 24 March and hosted for the second time on Spanish soil, following the 1996 edition held in Palma de Mallorca. One year earlier Spain ran to surprise team silver as the men’s team finished second behind a powerful Kenyan trio.
In this look back, we catch up with some of the members of Spain’s 1995 squad.
The World Half Marathon Championships that year were run on a course between the French cities of Montbeliard and Belfort on 1 October. The Spanish team included five men, all of whom came to the line with solid half marathon credentials except for Antonio Serrano, who was making his debut over the 21.097m distance.
“It was curious because I made the strong national team without a single previous performance,” the then 30-year-old Serrano reflects now. Not that he wasn’t talented. Serrano set the Spanish national record in the marathon the year before in Berlin, dipping under 2:10 for the first time with a 2:09:13 performance.
Serrano finished fourth in Belfort in 1:01:56 with his compatriots Bartolomé Serrano (11th) and Pablo Sierra (19th) following. Despite the passing of 23 years, Antonio Serrano, now a well-known coach, remembers the race perfectly, considered as one of his best achievements at the international level.
“Tanzania’s Motori Choloo set a frantic early pace and the leading pack went through the first five-K 14:07. The rhythm stayed fast - we reached the 10-K mark in 28:47. Shortly afterwards the main group whittled down to four, the Kenyan triumvirate and myself.”
Moses Tanui, Paul Yego and Charles Tangus made up that unbeatable Kenyan squad. The former was the world record holder thanks to the 59:47 clocking he had set a couple of years earlier in Milan to become the first ever to break the one-hour barrier.
“You can watch the race on YouTube but I don’t want to do it,” he adds with a laugh, as he continues his passionate recounting. “Once Tanui and Yego broke away easily, I tried to get rid of Tangus with 1000 metres to go but he finally caught me some 400 metres from home and I narrowly missed the bronze medal. I still remember that Tanui was gifted with a Peugeot as the headquarters of that car company were placed in Belfort.”
On a statistical note, the man who finished fifth just behind Serrano, South Africa’s Josia Thugwane, would become the Olympic marathon champion 10 months later in Atlanta.
Nowadays, Serrano is one of the most prestigious coaches in Spain with 18 years experience under his belt. He quit professional running in 1999 at 34 and the following year kicked-off his career as a coach. His first success didn’t take long as Juan Carlos Higuero managed a creditable eighth in the 1500m at the Sidney Olympics. Among others, Serrano now coaches the reigning European indoor 3000m champion Adel Mechaal. The 27-year-old will be fighting for a medal at the upcoming IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham after completing the 1500m/3000m double at the Spanish indoor championships last weekend.
Bartolomé Serrano --no relation to Antonio-- was the next Spaniard to romp home in Belfort. He also fondly remembers that chapter of his athletics career.
“I was 26 then and precisely that year I had made a major breakthrough. I first took part at the World Cross Country Championships in the British city of Durham, then I also competed at the Marathon World Cup in Athens. On both occasions Spain took the team bronze medals so I couldn’t ask for more in my first two appearances on the international scene. Nowadays, given the African supremacy in endurance events it’s unthinkable to be in the top three. I was lucky to get it and I’m very proud of it.”
In Belfort, Bartolomé Serrano clocked 1:02:41.
“Yes, the early pace was quite fast and I had a lack of experience in racing that quick so after a brisk five-kilometre split of around 14:15 I decided to slow down my rhythm, otherwise I wouldn’t have reached the tape,” he said, laughing. “I have to confess that I considered the world championships as a reward. I really enjoyed them and never felt the typical pressure athletes often feel when they compete at the highest level.”
He now works as a massage therapist in his native Terrasa (near Barcelona) and jogs every day.
“I had to leave athletics quite young, at the age of 29, because of chronic fatigue so I only run for fun now and no more than twenty to twenty-five minutes daily. I suffered mononucleosis when I was 20 and it took me several years to fully recover.”
Sierra completed the Spanish top-three in 1:03:14 for an overall time of 3:07:51. Sierra, now 48, moved to the US many years ago where he works as a craftsman in the state of Mississippi.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF