Algeria's Souad Ait Salem set a women’s course record (1:09:15) at the 34th Rome-Ostia Half Marathon (24), while in the men's race the first three ran very close to the one-hour wall, each setting PBs.
Kenyan Margaret Okayo made a satisfying comeback from injury in the women’s race, and overall there was a total of 7903 finishers, a new record for the event.
WOMEN - Ait Salem is ready for London
In 2007, Ait Salem had won the Rome Ostia with a time of 1:10:29, and then went to Rome City Marathon and set a course record with 2:25:08. This year, on a beautiful sunny day, she did much better. "I'm going to run the London Marathon this spring," she confirmed. "I'm going to face Paula Radcliffe and many athletes like her, but I'm in a very good shape."
The Algerian didn’t start too fast and until 7km Italy's Vincenza Sicari was able to follow her. However, in the tougher uphill stretch along the course, the Italian slowed down and suddenly Ait Salem had no rivals anymore. "Last year I pushed too much at that point and I paid for it in the final (kilometres)," Sicari revealed after the race. "I didn't want to repeat that mistake."
10km was passed by Ait Salem in 33:09, while Sicari was 11 seconds behind. 5km later the gap had grown to 25 seconds.
"I ran a very regular pace," the winner said after the race. "I felt very well during the whole race." In the last 4km she was even able to push a little harder and closed with a time of 1:09:15, 10 seconds faster that Gloria Marconi in 2003. Just Kenya's Philes Ongori in Marugame has ran faster (1:07:57) in 2008.
"I was thinking about such a time, below 1:10," she admitted. Now she will come back to Faro (Portugal), her usual training place, until leaving for London (April 13).
Okayo - Comeback after two years
Sicari set a new PB as well (1:10:21), but the real pre-race mystery had been Margaret Okayo. After winning whatever you can in the marathon (twice winner in New York and San Diego, one in Boston, London, Milan), she had not run since the 2006 London Marathon because of a tendon problem.
Today she closed out in 3rd with 1:13:06. "I'm very satisfied, it's not easy to come back to race after a long stop like mine," Okayo said. "I'm very confident to become again what I had been before and win important races."
MEN - Jonathan Kosgei provides the strongest finish
The men's race was essentially a matter between three runners. At 3km Jonathan Kosgei Kipkorir, James Kwambai Kipsang and David Mandago Kipkorir, led by the designated rabbit Isaac Kiplagat, had already dropped all the other runners.
Along the up-and-down of the course from Rome to Ostia's beach, they passed through 5km in 14:20, 10km in 28:41, 15km in 42:43. Mandago was the first to increase the pace, then at 17km Kwambai, who had won here in 2005, took the lead.
But it was to no avail and so the three reached the last kilometre all together and just the final sprint gave the victory to Kosgei, well known for his good finish.
"I knew that I can beat my rivals in the final sprint, so I controlled the whole race and waited for the last kilometre," admitted Kosgei. He closed with a time of 1:00:19, the 6th fastest of this year and a new PB (previous: 1:00:47 in Udine two years ago).
Kwambai with 1:00:22 equalled his PB run in Udine in 2004, while Mandago made a big improvement from 1:01:54 to 1:00:23. Given his advantage on the second pack, the pacemaker Kiplagat, who had faded behind at 14km, decided to finish the race and took 4th place in 1:02:02.
Marathon plans for spring
Kosgei improved on last year's second place and now is hoping to do the same in less than a month in the full marathon (16 March). In 2007 he finished 3rd the Rome City Marathon. "I'm training very well with my coach Eric Kimayio in Kapsait, I will go back there immediately," he said.
On the contrary, Kwambai planned to run again in the Boston Marathon (April 21), after last year's second place. "Jonathan was stronger than me today, but I'm very confident," he said. He is training with coach Claudio Berardelli and team-mates Martin Lel and Robert Cheruiyot Kipkoech in Namibia, in order to avoid Kenya's unrest.
Mandago is going to run in Hamburg on April 6, where he will find the four times champion Julio Rey. The Spaniard was in the race as well, but closed-out in a far 8th place (1:03:59).
"My goals for 2008 are two: Hamburg and Beijing," said Rey, who missed an Olympic medal after winning a World silver in Paris 2003 and a couple of European bronze in 2002 and 2006. In April, he is going to become father for the third time as well.
Alberto Zorzi for the IAAF
Selected results (21.097km)
1. Jonathan Kosgei Kipkorir, KEN, 1:00:19
2. James Kwambai Kipsang, KEN, 1:00:22
3. David Mandago Kipkorir, KEN, 1:00:23
4. Isaac Kiplagat, KEN, 1:02:02
5. Francis Kirwa, FIN, 1:03:18
6. Daniele Caimmi, ITA, 1:03:39
7. Alfred Sang Kiprop, KEN, 1:03:39
8. Julio Rey SPA 1:03:59
... 17. Alberico Di Cecco, ITA, 1:06:00
1. Souad Ait Salem, ALG, 1:09:15
2. Vincenza Sicari, ITA, 1:10:21
3. Margaret Okayo, KEN, 1:13:06
4. Marcella Mancini, ITA, 1:13:57
5. Gegia Gualtieri, ITA, 1:14:22