The women-only half marathon world record* was improved to 1:06:11 at the IAAF/Trinidad Alfonso World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018 on Saturday (24).
It wasn’t, however, acquired by race favourite Joyciline Jepkosgei, who owns the mixed-race standard of 1:04:51, but by slightly surprising Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta.
Gudeta – with the name Kebede on her bib in reference to her extended family name but who appears in vast majority of race results and is better known by solely her father’s name – made a decisive bid for glory in the 14th kilometre to shake off both Jepkosgei and her little-known Kenyan compatriot Pauline Kamulu and was never headed over the final third of the race.
She reduced Lornah Kiplagat’s world and championship record, which had stood since the 2007 edition, by 14 seconds – as well as slicing 1:15 off her own personal best set in Delhi last November – and fittingly, after being slumped for a time beside the barriers beyond the finish line while she regained her composure, was helped to her feet and congratulated by the Dutch woman whose records she had just superseded.
Records looked likely from the moment the gun went.
A 13-strong group consisting of the three Kenyan runners on the final entry list and all five of the Ethiopia and Bahrain women’s squads flew through the first 3km in 9:20.
Admittedly, the opening kilometres saw the runners have gusting winds on their back, but the predicted finishing time was well inside 66 minutes and stayed that way for the next two kilometres despite a slight easing off of the pace before 5km was passed in 15:39.
The Kenyan trio of Ruth Chepngetich, Jepkosgei and Kamulu were forcing the pace with the other 10 women wisely using them as wind breaks.
Working together, but now running into the wind, between seven and eight kilometres Jepkosgei, and Kamulu started to surge in familiar fashion to the way that Kenyan runners have so often done at major championship races in the past and only Gudeta, fellow Ethiopian Meseret Belete and Bahrain’s Asian record holder Eunice Chumba could stay with them.
Passing 10km in 31:38, with Belete clearly starting to struggle and an 11-second gap back to a third Ethiopian Zeineba Yimer, the definite impression that the medallists were going to come from the leading quartet was getting stronger with every stride, and so it proved.
Even though the leaders had drifted outside the pace to beat Kiplagat’s marks, who had passed 10km in 31:10 in the Italian city of Udine 11 years ago, they were still operating at a high tempo.
Over the next couple of kilometres, Gudeta showed more regularly at the front to demonstrate to everyone that she was still fresh and then she made her move. Having passed 13 kilometres and crossing to the south side of the famed Turia Gardens, she went through the gears to test the mettle of her remaining rivals.
Initially, it was the unheralded Kamulu who gave chase but she could not stay with Gudeta for long.
Passing 15km in 47:30, with Kamulu four seconds in arrears and Jepkosgei a further four seconds down the road, Gudeta looked supremely relaxed as some gentle rain started to fall and she consistently and constantly turned the screw.
Gudeta passed 18km in an unofficial 56:45 to bring the world and championship record back into focus, and then speeded up to go through 20km in 1:02:53, now a full 40 seconds clear of Kamulu.
As she turned the corner into the long finishing straight alongside the august Valencia landmark of the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, the clock had not yet reached 66 minutes and so Gudeta dug deep and started to sprint over the final 150 metres before going into new territory and taking the US$50,000 world record bonus.
“The race went according to plan, I was only thinking about the gold medal,” reflected Gudeta, sixth and fourth at the last two IAAF World half Marathon Championships, speaking through a translator.
Gudeta later confirmed that it was part of her pre-race plans to let the Kenyans take the pace through the first half of the race and that her training had been geared towards sustaining a fast pace all the way to the finish.
Behind the winner, there was drama as Jepkosgei found her second wind over the last three kilometres.
At almost exactly the 20km checkpoint, she got up on the shoulder of Kamulu before edging past her compatriot to take second place in 1:06:54 with Kamulu two seconds back in a personal best of 1:06:56.
Jepkosgei revealed that after her mixed-race world record in Valencia last October she had suffered from malaria that had affected her training, although she had come back to finish sixth in the RAK half Marathon last month. “I have been recovering slowly but I still came here for a medal,” she commented.
Chumba just missed out on being Bahrain’s first ever medallist at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships when she finished fourth in 1:07:17 but did get to climb the podium and see the Bahrain flag fly for the first time at a medal ceremony when the Asian country took the team bronze medals behind Ethiopia and Kenya.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF
*Subject to the usual ratification procedures