Defence Club athletes Tsebelu Zewde and Genet Yalew churned out impressive victories in Addis Ababa on Sunday (23) at the Ethiopian Half Marathon Championships, the official trials for the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen next month.
The top seven finishers earnt automatic selection to the squad and will gather for a team camp ahead of the IAAF World Half Marathon Champonships. The Ethiopian Athletics Federation will then select the team of 10 athletes, (five men and five women) for Copenhagen.
The men’s race brought together some of the most experienced road runners in the country, including 2012 Rotterdam Marathon winner and 2009 World Championships marathon fourth-place finisher Yemane Tsegaye, but it was relative unknown Tsebelu Zewde who stole the show.
Coming to the race with a ‘lowly’ 10km PB of 29:39, the 26-year-old clocked 1:01:33 in the high altitude of Addis Ababa (2550m above sea level) to take victory ahead of another newcomer, Fantahun Hungenaw, with Bonsa Dida finishing third.
With high-profile starters, the men’s race was always going to be fierce from the outset, but it took until 7km for any serious breakaway attempt to ensue.
Twenty athletes, including the eventual top three, broke away from a starting field of about 40 and continued to toe each other until the half-way point in the contest when the pack started to dwindle down to 11 at the 12km mark.
A couple of kilometres later, Dida, Zewde and Hungenaw broke clear of the chasing pack to set up a three-horse race. They exchanged the lead during the next seven kilometres before Dida was eventually dropped in the last kilometre.
Zewde’s relative experience over Hungenaw on the roads proved the big difference as he gained the edge in the last 100m to win in 1:01:33. Hunegaw, fresh from his fifth-place finish at the African Cross Country Championship trials two weeks ago, finished second ahead of Dida.
“Even though it was obvious that this would be a though contest, my aim was only to win,” said Zewde. “I am glad that I finally achieved what I wanted.”
Track specialist Yalew steps up to half marathon with victory
In contrast to the men’s race, the women’s contest did not see any breakaway attempt until the 10km mark when fifteen athletes advanced to the lead with eventual winner Genet Yalew.
The 21-year old, who is the 2009 world youth 3000m bronze medallist and 2011 world junior cross-country silver medallist, was making her competitive half-marathon debut and showed no signs of an athlete lacking confidence, breaking away from the chasing pack at 12km.
Hirut Alemayehu and Mame Feyisa tried in vain to catch the diminutive runner, but to no avail as Yalew crossed the line in 1:10:58. Alemayehu won the battle for silver ahead of Feyisa with Tsehay Desalegne completing the top four.
“This was my first half marathon race and I’m glad to win it,” said Yalew. “I prepared well for this race, but was afraid of dropping off [thinking the half marathon might be too long for me]. But when I got into the race, it actually felt like I ran a shorter race."
Elshadai Negash (with the assistance of Bizuayehu Wagaw) for the IAAF
1 Tsebelu Zewde 1:01:33
2 Fantahun Hunegnaw 1:01:34
3 Bonsa Dida 1:01:46
4 Guye Adola 1:01:55
5 Fikru Assefa 1:02:09
6 Adugna Takele 1:02:10
1 Genet Yalew 1:10:58
2 Hirut Alemayehu 1:11:58
3 Mame Feyisa 1:12:00
4 Tsehay Dessalegn 1:12:02
5 Emsha Nigusse 1:12:13
6 Fantu Eticha 1:12:24