Kamworor, Gudeta Dominate Blustery IAAF World Half Marathon Championships

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

VALENCIA (24-Mar) -- A mighty wind blew through this Spanish coastal city today, but it failed to stop Kenya's Geoffrey Kamworor or Ethiopia's Netsanet Gudeta Kebede from dominating the 24th edition of the IAAF/Trinidad Alfonso World Half-Marathon Championships here this afternoon.  Both athletes sailed down the light-blue-carpeted finish straight in the iconic City of Arts and Sciences alone to win in 1:00:02 and 1:06:11, respectively.  Each athlete will collect the USD 30,000 first prize, and Gudeta --who told reporters that she prefers "Gudeta" to "Kebede" because it is his father's name-- will collect an additional USD 50,000 because her mark was a pending IAAF world record for a women's-only race. A total of 152 men and 117 women finished the race.

Kamworor Like A Train

Kamworor, the reigning TCS New York City Marathon champion, kept a low profile in the early kilometers, content to stay tucked in the pack while the wind --and later a rain shower-- lashed the athletes.  By global standards, the 14:31 opening 5-kilometer split was pedestrian, explaining why over 50 athletes were in the lead pack at that point.  Kamworor, officially in ninth position, was not worried.

"The start of the race was a bit windy that's why it was slow," Kamworor told reporters.  "I can say I was really prepared for this race and I had no pressure."

The slow pace led to some shoving, clipping and even one athlete fell in the 9th kilometer (he was not readily identified).  In the aftermath, Turkey's Kaan Kigen Ozbilen took up the pace, but the lead group still had 30+ men at the 10-K mark (29:28).  Kamworor continued to sit tight, refusing to show his cards.

"The group was really big," he said.  "I didn't mind because I was prepared for whatever happened."

The lead pack stayed twenty-five-strong through 15-K (44:13), and that's when Kamworor decided to show all of his cards.  He shot through the 16th kilometer in 2:30, than backed that up with a 2:35 for the 17th kilometer.  He would cover the 15 to 20-kilometer segment in a blistering 13:01, a remarkable split even given the powerful tailwind at that point.

"I think for me I was really prepared for this is race," Kamworor later explained.  "From 15-K I decided to move.  I was really looking forward to winning this race.  That's why I ran that fast."

Kamworor entered the City of Arts and Sciences with all of his rivals at a safe distance.  He had the finish straight to himself, and he celebrated by pumping both fists and event blowing a kiss to the crowd.  He raised both hands as he broke the tape to earn his third consecutive world half-marathon title, and his fifth consecutive global medal in five years (the other two came at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships).

"This is now my fifth year in a row wining a gold medal in a world championships," Kamworor said.  "I've really accomplished big achievements in my career."

Behind him, Bahrain's Abraham Cheroben had taken control of second place and managed to hold that position to the line in 1:00:22.  Eritrea's Aaron Kifle won a spirited battle with Ethiopia's Jemal Yimer to claim bronze, 1:00:31 to 1:00:33.  The team title, which is based on the total time of a nation's best three finishers, went to Ethiopia in 3:02:14, beating Kenya by 26 seconds.  Bahrain was third in 3:02:52.

Gudeta Upsets Jepkosgei

Kenya's Joyciline Jepkosgei came into these championships as a heavy favorite.  Already the absolute world record holder (1:04:52) she asserted herself at the beginning of the contest, taking the lead right from the gun.  Unlike the men, she did not hold back in the early kilometers, going through 3-kilometers in 9:18 and 5-K in 15:39.  She said she had something to prove.

"In February after the RAK Half-Marathon (where she finished fifth in 1:06:46) I had malaria and I didn't train well," she said.  "I came here to try to get a medal.  I tried my best."

The early fast pace quickly reduced the lead pack to an even dozen.  Jepkosgei had company from two of her teammates, Pauline Kaveke Kamulu and Ruth Chepngetich, while Gudeta led Ethiopian teammates Zeineba Yimer, Bekelech Gudeta, Meseret Belete and Zinash Mekonnen.  Three women from the Bahraini team were also there, including marathon ace Rose Chelimo.

Two big moves would decided the race.  The first came from Jepkosgei who smoked the ninth kilometer in 2:59, reducing the lead pack to five: Jepkosgei, Gudeta, Kamulu, Bahrain's Eunice Chumba, and Belete.  The second came from Gudeta who ran the 15th kilometer in an even faster 2:57.  That gave her a four-second lead, after which she was never challenged.

"I came out after 10 kilometers," Gudeta told the media through a translator.  "Before that I was behind."  She continued: "I was trying to make all of my training to do that.  I was confident that I could keep that pace and make it to the finish line, and I did it."

Jepkosgei, who had slipped back to third place, didn't give up.  She muscled her way up to Kamulu, catching her before 20-K, then pulling away to win the silver in 1:06:54.  Kamulu held on for bronze in 1:06:56, and was thrilled with her medal.

"I'm very excited," said the petite athlete who struggled to find the right words.

Gudeta's individual win was all the more sweeter because the Ethiopian women also won the team title in 3:22:27, handily beating the Kenyans who were timed in 3:23:02.  Bahrain took the third team spot, snapping the Japanese team's streak of bronze medals at these championships at nine (they finished a distant fourth).

Some 15,000 runner competed in a mass race right behind the men's professional race.  It was the third consecutive edition of these championships which included a mass race.

The next edition of the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships will be held in Gdynia, Poland, in March, 2020.

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