Kenya’s Sammy Kitwara cemented himself as the most successful runner ever at the World’s Best 10k with his fifth win while Belaynesh Oljira took Ethiopia’s first victory in four years at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race, whose 18th edition was held on Sunday afternoon (1) on the Teodoro Moscoso bridge in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Facing one of the strongest winds in the history of the race, former world half-marathon bronze medallist Kitwara completed the distance in 28:51, the slowest winning time since the race turned international in 2000. World 10,000m bronze medallist Oljira launched a strong sprint to overcome her Kenyan rivals and take Ethiopia’s first World’s Best 10k victory since 2011.
Affected by strong winds from the start, the lead group of 15 men moved at a slow pace, hitting the third kilometre in 9:07, a minute slower than course record pace. The pack stayed populated with 12 men when they reached half way in 14:50.
The race began in earnest after seven kilometres and a faster pace left four Kenyans – Kitwara, John Mwangangi, Stephen Sambu and Julius Kogo – in front along with Uganda’s three-time Commonwealth champion Moses Kipsiro.
In the final kilometre, Kitwara and Mwangangi ran side by side. The former launched his kick and only managed to move away from his rival 100 meters from the finish line to secure his fifth title after missing the 2014 edition. He had previously won in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Mwangangi (28:52) and Sambu (28:56) joined him on the podium. Kogo finished fourth, also with 28:56.
“Wow, what can I say? I love winning here,” said Kitwara. “The competition was tough and I had to push all the way until the finish line. John (Mwangangi) wouldn’t let me go and I gave my best to take this important victory.”
The women’s race featured another battle between Kenyans and Ethiopians. The lead group of 11 at the 3km mark as reduced to four with two kilometres remaining, leaving just Cynthia Limo and Betsy Saina of Kenya as well as Ethiopia’s 2011 winner Sentayehu Ejigu and Oljira.
Shortly after, they dropped Ejigu to leave the top three to decide their order on the podium in the last mile. Limo launched her attack, but Oljira responded in the final stretch to break the tape in 31:57, one second faster than Limo, who was rewarded with a personal best.
“When I knew I had a chance to win, I moved away from the closest rival and thankfully I had enough to take the lead and the title,” said the world cross-country bronze medallist.
She became the third Ethiopian woman to win the World’s Best 10k, after Ejigu (2011) and Deriba Merga (2008).
Betsy Saina settled for third ahead of Ejigu (32:26) and Briton Gemma Steel (32:52).
Competing on the road for the first time since becoming a mother last October, four-time world champion and three-time World Best 10k winner Vivian Cheruiyot lost contact with the leaders after the first third and finished eighth in 33:23 minutes, 15 seconds behind defending champion Mary Wacera.
The top local runners renewed their victories from 2014: Mizael Carrera (30:39) and Beverly Ramos (33:50). Ramos ran the fastest time by a Puerto Rican woman to finish ninth overall.
The World’s Best 10k, the Santiago de Chile Marathon and Bogota’s International Marathon and Carrera de la Mujer are the only IAAF Label road races in Latin America.
Of the 10,500 starters, close to 10,000 of them finished the race. The winners pocketed U$15,000 for their efforts.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF