Ethiopian runners continued their dominance of the Yangzhou International Half Marathon on Sunday (21) as Jakob Jarso and Worknesh Degefa triumphed at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Having won both men’s and women’s races in 2011, Ethiopian runners narrowly missed the feat in 2012 with a win in the men’s race and a loss by one second in the women’s race. But on a sunny Sunday morning in 2013, they started the race as favourites and did not disappoint at the finish line.
Clear skies and temperature at 7°C got the runners to a good start at around 8am and the leading group was off immediately. Kenyan Nicholas Kipkemboi, one of the favourites, took the lead from the start, leading a pack of 12 runners to the Guangling Bridge.
The first 5km was passed in 14:31 and the 12 runners were still together at 10km, where they clocked 28:49. With Kipkemboi still leading, 13km was reached in 37:23, but now the pace had picked up considerably and there were only eight runners left at the top at this stage.
By the 15km mark in Xuyuan Garden, only four were left at the lead with Kipkemboi still heading the group, followed by Eritrean Nguse Tesfaldet and Kenyans Silas Kipruto and Luka Lobiwan. Lobiwan seemed to be dropping off the group, but just 500m after this the three leaders seemed to slow down a bit to let the Kenyan back in.
Just after 16km, another runner, Yakob Jarso of Ethiopia, caught up with the leaders too making it a group of five men. Things didn’t change before 18.8km when Kipkemboi, in the lead from the very first moment of the race, accelerated considerably.
The 26-year-old Kenyan attacked and immediately Lobiwan, already in trouble earlier, was quickly dropped 10m back. Exactly one kilometre later it was time for Silas Kipruto to go backwards and at the same time the former steeplechaser Jarso made his move, taking the lead off Kipkemboi for the first time in the race. Jarso was timed at 57:36 for 20km, and 400m later Olympic 10,000m finalist Tesfaldet surrendered and it was only Jarso and Kipkemboi left at the top.
Jarso held on to win in 60:39, a season’s best and his second-best career clocking behind a 60:07 personal best in 2010. Kipkemboi was timed 60:42 for second place, also a season’s best, and Tesfaldet set a PB of 60:46 for third. Kipruto was fourth in 60:52 and Lobiwan fifth in 60:53.
Degefa finally lands a big win
The women’s race was a very different one in contrast to the men’s competition. Right from the start line three Ethiopians – Worknesh Degefa, Tadelech Bekele and Yebrqual Melese – left the others well behind, making sure it was a race only between athletes from one country.
After 30 minutes of running the trio had covered 9.2km and they stayed together until very late in the race. The deciding move came after 19km and it was made by Degefa, who moved up another gear, leaving Melese quickly behind. Bekele tried to follow, but after Degefa got five metres in between them at the 19.6km point, it seemed it was an easy win for the 23-year-old.
But it wasn’t over with Degefa fading a bit in the long final straight as Bekele almost caught up with her. Degefa still won in 68:43 with Bekele clocking a 68:45 personal best for second place. It was Degefa's first victory in an international Half-marathon race, having finished third at the Roma-Ostia Half Marathon in March and second in Prague earlier this month.
Melese was third in 69:02, a PB as well, while the best Chinese athlete Yang Dingrong finished fourth in a 73:23 PB. Former World Marathon champion Catherine Ndereba finished sixth in 77:54, one place behind fellow Kenyan Alice Mogire (75:25).
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF