Paul Kuira, a Kenyan based in Japan, out-kicked New Zealand’s Zane Robertson in the final 20 metres on the track to win the 69th edition of Kawaga Marugame International Half Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, in a course record 59:47 on Sunday (1).
Robertson was also credited with the same time 59:47, both men being inside the former course record of 59:48 by Kenya’s Mekubo Mogusu from 2007. It was also the fastest half marathon of 2015 so far.
The lead pack in Marugame covered the first 5km in 14:14, then sped up to cover the next 5km in 13:56.
By 10km, reached in 28:10, the lead pack still consisted of nine runners: Kuira, Robertson, Bernard Koech, Benjamin Ngandu, Juan Luis Barrios, Jacob Wanjuki, Masato Kikuchi, Keita Shitara, and Ken Yokote.
The pace often slackens after the halfway point in Marugame but the leaders covered the next 5km in 14:07 as Kuira, Robertson, and the Kenyan pair of Koech and Ngandu passed 15km together in 42:17.
Ngandu surged briefly but the others quickly covered his move, then Kuira moved ahead and Robertson was able to stay with him.
Coming into the stadium, Robertson took the lead. Kuira not only stayed close but, with the finishing line in sight, changed gear to win by fractions of a second.
Kuira and Robertson became the 116th and 117th runners, respectively, to crack 60 minutes for the half marathon, including non-record eligible courses.
The last non-African to crack 60 minutes was Marilson dos Santos in 2007. Robertson’s time was also a New Zealand record as well as an Oceania record. It was a half marathon debut for both Kuira and Robertson.
The performances of both men certainly caught everyone by surprise considering their background on the track.
Kuira’s 10,000m personal best, recorded in 2014 is a respectable 27:40.43 while Robertson has a 5000m best of 13:13.83. His best performances are a third-place finish in the 2014 Commonwealth Games 5000m and second place over the same distance at the 2014 Continental Cup.
Koech finished third on Sunday with 1:00:09 and Ngandu was fourth with 1:00:20, the latter improving his personal best by 46 seconds. Barrios, from Mexico, finished fifth with 1:00:46 and also improved his personal best. Masato Kikuchi, in seventh place with 1:00:57, was the first Japanese runner home.
Eloise Wellings of Australia won the women’s race convincingly with 1:10:41. She was also a half marathon debutante.
After passing 5km in the pack in 16:44, 10km was passed in 32:57 and only Japan’s Kaho Tanaka was with her.
By 15km, reached in 49:47, Wellings was alone in front, and won by 18 seconds.
Mao Kiyota came through for second in 1:10:59, nearly two minutes faster than her previous best. Yuko Mizuguchi was third with 1:11:03, while the 2014 champion Eri Makikawa was fourth with 1:11:04. Tanaka drifted back to sixth while USA’s Shalane Flanagan was, unfortunately, a late non-starter.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF