Kenya’s Morris Munene and Ethiopia’s Gebeyanesh Ayele claimed their respective titles at the Semi-Marathon Boulogne-Billancourt Christian Granger, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, whose 20th edition took place on Sunday (20).
Munene thwarted the forecasts to pull of his third victory over the distance this year, following wins at the Santa Pola and Madrid half marathons. He thus succeeded 2014 winner Yitayal Atnafu, who was the defending champion as last year’s edition was cancelled following the horrendous series of terrorist attacks which struck Paris.
The pre-race favourite Edwin Kipyego, who prevailed twice in the Marseille Cassis 20km and had the fastest PB of the field with 59:30, was eventually unable to make the trip to France, leaving the contest a little more open, with five runners with lifetime bests between 60 and 61-minutes toeing the line.
That implied that the 1:00:11 course record set by Kenya's Franklin Chepkowny in 2013 might be in jeopardy, but fierce winds dashed any course record assaults.
A group of eight runners quickly detached itself from the field, including Kenyans Munene, John Lotiang and Seboka Bira, Ethiopians Yitayal Atnafu and Gedefa Tolossa, along with Ben Siwa, Hassan Chahdi and Martin Ohman.
Led by the 2016 Marvejols-Mende champion Lotiang, the lead pack hit the five-kilometre checkpoint in 14:35. The Frenchman Chahdi, the 2010 European cross-country silver medallist who was targeting his 1:01:42 personal best, was the first to fade and eventually drop out.
At the instigation of Lotiang who continued to force a steady pace, the pack went through 10 kilometres in 29:02. But Ohman and Tolossa couldn’t maintain the rhythm and were the next to drop back. At that point, there were still five runners left in contention: Munene, Lotiang, Bira, Atnafu and Siwa.
Then the strong headwind slowed the pace, with the pack passing 15 kilometres in 44:10.
Near the 20-kilometre point, Uganda’s Siwa kicked on but couldn’t manage to pull away. The final kilometre came down to a sprint with Munene prevailing in 1:02:04.
“I’m very happy. My strategy was to be hidden in the group and then sprint hard at the end,” said the 21-year-old, who improved his lifetime best to 1:00:35 in Krems, Austria, in September.
Yitayal Atnafu came home second, just two seconds behind Munene, as Lotiang rounded out the podium in 1:02:13. In a close finish Bira wound up fourth five seconds in arrears, with Siwa coming fifth in 1:02:28.
First victory and PB for Ayele
As expected the women’s contest was a duel between Kenya's Damaris Areba and Ethiopia's Gebeyanesh Ayele.
From the gun, they separated themselves from the rest of the field, with Ayele forging on alone soon thereafter. She gradually pulled away to win her first half marathon contest in 1:10:21, improving her lifetime best by 1:16. Her previous best of 1:11:37 was set two years ago in Boulogne-Billancourt.
Areba finished a distant runner-up in 1:11:59, almost two minutes ahead of Gezmu Zenash, who took third. The first Frenchwoman, Elodie Mene, was a distant fourth in 1:15:32.
Quentin Guillon for the IAAF
1 Morris Munene (KEN) 1:02:04
2 Yitayal Atnafu (ETH) 1:02:06
3 John Lotiang (KEN) 1:02:13
4 Seboka Bira (KEN) 1:02:18
5 Ben Siwa (UGA) 1:02:28
1 Gebeyanesh Ayele (ETH) 1:10:21
2 Damaris Areba (KEN) 1:11:59
3 Gezmu Zenash (ETH) 1:13:39
4 Elodie Mene (FRA) 1:15:32
5 Meredith Bortolameolli (FRA) 1:17:19