Zersenay Tadese dominated today’s IAAF / CAIXA World Half Marathon Championships, taking a 21km stroll along the picturesque Atlantic coast of this ‘Marvellous City’ renowned internationally more for its slightly clad sunbathing beauties than athletics brilliance.
The manner of the Eritrean’s victory was a picture in itself. Tadese’s run was a solo venture of such athletics magnitude that, if transferred to the full marathon when the 26-year-old makes his first attempt at that distance next year, even the likes of Haile Gebrselassie and Samuel Wanjiru will have to take notice.
Tadese won the first prize of US$30,000 in a time of 59:56, nearly two minutes ahead of his closest challenger, Patrick Makau Musyoki (1:01:54) who was also silver medallist in 2007, with Qatar’s Ahmad Hassan Abdullah, the 2004 bronze medallist, taking third (1:01:57).
Unlike the women’s race, the team contest (maximum of five to start per team, with three to score) was not close with Kenya, first (3:07:24), Eritrea, second (3:09:40) and Qatar (3:10:52), third. It was Kenya’s third consecutive victory in this national contest.
First three-time champion
Mountains, sun, sea, sand and Zersenay Tadese were the fundamental elements of today’s race. The first four provided a stunning setting for this annual global road running championship, while the fifth dominated the sporting proceedings.
At 9.15am local time at the San Conrado Beach, near Gavea Rock the gun fired for the men’s race with the elite runners of the World Championships setting off from a separate start line some 200m ahead of the mass ranks of some 16,000 runners who were competing on the same course in the annual Rio Half Marathon.
Rwanda’s Dieudonne Disi and Tadese, were the only two runners who ever got an unobstructed view of the course which hugged the coast, passing by the famous white sanded beaches of Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo and finally Flamenco before dog-legging back a short distance to finish in Cuauhtemoc Square.
Disi, sixth in Udine last year, was the first of these two race leaders to get his nose in front immediately at the start. The Rwandan was followed closely by a group of approximately 20 runners as the competitors climbed an incline of 5m in altitude for 2km before descending back to sea level for another 2km, to meet the first of the main beaches, Leblon.
With just 12 minutes on the clock, Tadese became the second and final race leader. A seemingly effortless surge gave the defending two-time champion a clear lead within a few fluent strides. That ultimately was ‘game over’ in the battle for individual gold at least.
Two minutes later when Tadese went through 5km (14:06), as the race came close to Ipanema, the potency of his attack became clear, cutting a swathe through the ranks and hopes of his pursuers. The following pack, an exaggeration in a sense as the chasers were never that tightly gathered together, numbered a mere dozen runners, five Ethiopians, three Kenyans, two Qataris, one Japanese and one Rwandan.
Another two kilometres later and Tadese had whittled his genuine opponents down to five – Kenya’s Stephen Kipkoech Kibiwott, Patrick Makau Musyoki, last year’s silver medallist, and Joseph Maregu, Ahmad Hassan Abdullah of Qatar, the bronze medallist in 2004, and Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga.
As they approached 10km (27:55), Tadese had put nearly half a minute between himself and his nearest opponents. It was at this time that Merga’s race was beginning to falter due to an upset stomach which was ultimately to lead to him dropping out of the race.
But by the time that Tadese reached 15km (42:02), Merga’s compatriot Abebe Dinkesa had joined Tadese’s group of chief chasers so keeping Ethiopia’s challenge for the minor medals alive. At about the same time Maregu was finding the pace a little too hot, and slipped off this lead group of pursuers.
By now the silver and bronze medals were the realistic extent of anyone’s aspirations other than Tadese, as the defending champion was now one and half minutes ahead of the field, with the margin growing by the moment. Tadese’s running style was as fluid as the ocean breaking on the shore to his right. Both were a picture and we were wallowing in the spectacle.
At this point the early race leader Disi was 1:45 down on the lead, with Japan’s Yusei Nakao doing his best to stay with him, while a lot further back but still in the top-12 was local pre-race hope Marilson Dos Santos. The Brazilian had a good final few kilometres and by the end of the day had done enough to grab 8th place (1:03:14).
Ahead of all, Tadese passed 20km in 56:45, and completed the half marathon in 59:56 to become the first ever three-time men’s race winner in the history of the competition.
Behind him the three longest serving members of the posse, fought it out in a strong battle for the tape, with Makua (1:01:54) heading by three seconds Abdullah, with Kibiwott, just one second further back in fourth.
In the last 5 to 6km of the race Nakao made a fine surge of his own to break away from Disi, catching a fading Dinkesa who dropped off the leading chase group as they began their battle for the minor medals. The reward for the Japanese was a fifth place finish (1:02:05). Nakao left Disi a minute behind, the Rwandan finishing sixth, edging ahead of Dinkesa in the final sprint – 1:03:03 to 1:03:04.
Chris Turner for the IAAF