Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese and Ethiopia’s Mestawet Tufa set course records when winning at the third edition of the Naoko Takahashi Cup / Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, in 1:00:31 and 1:10:03 respectively on Sunday (19).
Zersenay, the six-time world champion on the roads and at cross country, improved the former course record set by Kenya’s Martin Mathathi two years ago by 16 seconds, while Tufa, in her first race over the distance since 2010, sliced neatly three minutes off the course record set by South Africa’s Rene Kalmer 12 months ago.
Kenya’s Patrick Muendo Mwaka led the through the opening kilometres in the men’s race and was part of a trio who passed 5km in 14:14, accompanied by Ethiopia’s Abayneh Ayele and Tadese.
However, Tadese and Ayele soon started to edge away from Mwaka, and another two kilometres down the road, the race favourite started to drop his Ethiopian rival.
At 10km, which Tadese reached in 28:18, Ayele was 10 seconds in arrears. The next 5km proved crucial as Tadese continued to forge ahead and he reached the 15km checkpoint in 42:48, 11 seconds ahead of Mathathi’s course record split.
Behind him, Ayele started to falter and was passed just before 15km by three Kenyans working together, Mathathi, Jacob Wanjuki and Cyrus Njui, but the trio were 35 seconds behind Tadese with just over six kilometres to go.
Mathathi and Wanjuki closed the gap a little on Zersenay in the final five kilometres but the Eritrean was still strong enough to win the race by 24 seconds with the former winner Mathathi second in 1:00:54, followed by Wanjuki one second further back and Njui fourth in 1:01:08 while Ayele came home fifth in 1:01:43.
The top local runner was Taiga Ito in eighth place in 1:03:45.
The women’s race turned into a thrilling duel between Tufa, the 2008 world cross-country silver medallist, and Kenya’s Eunice Jepkirui, the pair starting the race at a super-fast pace, passing 5km in 16:04, which put them initially on course for a time below 68 minutes and gave them a lead of more than a minute from the best of the rest of the women’s field.
The pace inevitably started to slow but, running together, the pair passed 10km in 32:47, 15km in 49:36 and then 20km in 1:06:36. However Tufa surged just before they entered the stadium and won from Jepkirui by six seconds with Australia’s Lara Tamsett a distant third in 1:13:33.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF