Zersenay Tadesse crosses the finish for Eritrea's first World title (© Getty Images)
When the guns signals the start of the men’s race at the 2nd IAAF World Road Running Championships at 1030hrs (GMT +2hrs) in Udine on Sunday morning, 14 October, it will also launch one of the most anticipated road running battles of the year: defending champion Zersenay Tadesse vs. World record holder Sammy Wanjiru over the Half Marathon distance.
A year ago Tadesse, already an Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist on the track, claimed the first World title for Eritrea after a convincing 40 second victory over 20 kilometres in Debrecen. His 56:01 performance was then the second fastest ever, and currently rests in the No. 4 position all-time.
Five months later, Tadesse, now 25, continued his high level momentum when he produced a stunning 23 second victory at the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, a performance that, all things considered, will indelibly remain one of the most memorable of 2007.
Most recently Tadesse took a convincing victory at the Dam tot Dam loop 10 miler in Amsterdam two-and-a-half weeks ago, winning decisively despite an "accident" with police motorcycles at the 5Km point. In late August he was a distant fourth in the 10,000m in Osaka a month after taking the African Games title over the distance in Algiers, clocking a solo 27:00.30 season’s best.
In his lone Half Marathon outing this season, he won comfortably in 1:01:26 at the inaugural Medio Maratón De Cáceres in April, but Tadesse has solid credentials to his credit as well. Last year he won in Rotterdam in 59:16, and in 2005 clocked 59:05 on the slightly downhill course at the Great North Run in South Shields, England.
Meanwhile, Wanjiru, who won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until November, is already building a strong case as one of the finest half marathoners ever. Of his seven races over the distance since 2005, he’s dipped under the one hour mark in all but two, and of the three men who’ve bettered 59 minutes, he’s the only one who’s done it twice. Both runs came this year, first in Ras Al Khaimah on 9 February when he clipped two seconds from Haile Gebrselassie’s year-old World record, running 58:53 (A mark which was not ratified due to no EPO analysis having been performed). However, he did it again just five weeks later at The Hague where he crushed his mark, clocking 58:33, a time which is now the official World record.
The precocious Kenyan has already stated that further lowering the mark on Udine’s fast loop course is among his primary intentions this weekend, along with claiming his first World title. In his World record run, Wanjiru ran alone from the 3Km point, indicating that his World record talk is clearly within the realm of possibility.
In his most recent outing, Wanjiru was out-sprinted by compatriot Martin Lel at the Great North Run to experience a rare defeat over what is certainly his specialty distance.
Adding to the duel’s intrigue, both runners have decided to forgo their intended Marathon debuts in New York next month, firmly placing Udine as their final key outing of the year. And neither is expected to go down without a fierce fight.
There is plenty of depth behind the chief antagonists, ensuring a solid battle for the podium.
The Kenyan squad will be particularly well manned as the east African powerhouse sets out to defend its team title. After finishing a distant 26th in Debrecen last year, Patrick Makau Musyoki has forged a name for himself among the Half Marathon ranks, with three sub-60 minute performances this year, topped by a 58:56 victory in Berlin in April. Click her for previous story http://www.iaaf.org/WRU07/news/Kind=2/newsId=42017.html
Robert Kipchumba, the runner-up last year, returns as well, along with Evans Cheruiyot, this year’s winner at Rotterdam in 59:12.
Just shy of the podium in fourth a year ago, Wilson Busienei returns to lead the Ugandan squad. Deriba Merga, sixth last year, returns to head the Ethiopian team with a 59:44 best to his credit this year, also from Ras Al Khaimah. The field also includes a former three-time medallist, Tanzania’s Fabiano Joseph, who won the World Half Marathon title in 2005. Just under a year ago, Brazil’s Marilson dos Santos produced a major surprise when he won the New York City Marathon. The 30-year-old will toe the line here as well.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
Men's race - Athlete Biographies: Udine 2007