Unheralded Joel Kimutai and Polline Wanjiku made it Kenyan double at the Bupa Great Birmingham Run, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, battling strong winds and a hilly course before winning over the half marathon distance in 1:01:39 and 1:10:48 respectively on Sunday (19).
Many observers predicted Kenyan success in England’s second city, but pre-race attention was focused on 2009 world 10,000m champion Linet Masai in the women’s race and Commonwealth 10,000m silver medalist Josphat Bett, as well as his namesake Emmanuel in the men’s contest.
However, it was Kimutai and Wanjiku who took the spoils with impressive performances in trying conditions against their illustrious opponents.
In the men’s race, a steady, largely downhill first mile of 4:31 saw a group of five athletes establish an early lead, with Josphat Bett at the front of a pack that included Emmanuel Bett, Uganda’s 2013 winner Thomas Ayeko, Kimutai and South Africa’s world 5000m finalist Elroy Gelant.
However, by the five-mile point, Kimutai and Emmanel Bett had broken clear and the race became a straight battle between the two Kenyans
The pair produced a third 5km split of 13:51 and passed the 10-mile marker in a swift 46:20, but that also signalled the end of Bett’s challenge, with the 31-year-old drifting back on the penultimate incline.
With an unassailable lead established, Kimutai enjoyed a solo final two miles to the finish and crossed the line in 1:01:39, a personal best by almost a minute and by far the biggest win of his short career.
The 26-year-old training partner of double world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat was understandably delighted.
“The course is good, but there was a very strong wind,” he said. “I prepared very well for the race and it is my first ever victory and a personal best.
“I have only been training for five years and this was my first time racing Emmanuel and Josphat Bett.”
The former finished in second place in 1:02:33, ahead of Gelant, who out sprinted both Josphat Bett and Ayeko to clock 1:03:17 for third place.
In the women’s race, Wanjiku, a prolific racer on Britain’s roads and the winner of the Warsaw Half Marathon in 1:09:06 back in March, broke clear of both Masai and 2010 Commonwealth 10,000m silver medallist Doris Changeywo in the latter stages to cross the line in 1:10:48.
The 25-year-old was ahead by 41 seconds at the end and confirmed her 2014 improvement, having only been running competitively for 18 months.
With next week’s Great South Run now in her sights, Wanjiku reflected on her performance.
“This is very good,” she smiled. “I’m happy even though there was a lot of wind and if I came here again, I think I’d do even better. I’ve run 70 because of the wind, but I’m happy to win. I’m going to train for running in the wind on the hills and next year I will run 60-something."
Success over 13.1 miles points to a possible future at the marathon, albeit not in the short term: “When I’m 28 I will run my first marathon, but for now, I’m going to train for cross country. I want to run for Kenya in the future.”
Changeywo secured second in 1:11:29, with Masai, on her half marathon debut, taking third in 1:11:45.
Dean Hardman for the IAAF