Haile Gebrselassie on his way to winning the 2001 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol (© Getty Images)
In two weeks’ time, runners from around the world will compete at the IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships Cardiff 2016 on 26 March.
The championships will be returning to the country that hosted the first edition in 1992. During the 24 years that has passed since then, the essence of the event – a celebration of the world’s best road runners – has remained the same. But there have also been some changes along the way, as shown by these selected highlights.
1992 South Shields – a strong start
Held simultaneously with that year’s Great North Run, a total of 204 athletes took part. The race started in Newcastle upon Tyne and ended in South Shields. Along with the senior races, there was also a race for junior men.
Fittingly for the host nation, the first senior athlete to be crowned champion was women’s winner Liz McColgan. The late Benson Masya of Kenya took the senior men’s title moments later, leading his team to gold, while Ethiopia’s Kassa Tadesse won the junior men’s race. Britain earned silver medals in both of the senior team races.
1993 Brussels – more home success
For the second year in a row, a runner from the host nation took an individual senior gold medal as Belgium’s Vincent Rousseau won the men’s race.
Conceicao Ferreira of Portugal won the women’s title, with South Africa’s Meck Mothuli won the junior men’s race. It was the last time a junior race was held at the World Half Marathon Championships.
1995 Montbéliard-Belfort – first sweep
Although Kenya had taken team gold in the men’s race at the first three editions, they still only had one individual title to their name. But in 1995 they took a clean sweep of the medals in the men’s race with Moses Tanui leading the way.
With 243 athletes taking part, this remains the best-attended World Half Marathon Championships to date.
1997 Kosice – records fall
All four championship records were broken in 1997. Kenya dominated once again with Shem Kororia leading a medal sweep in the men’s race with a championship record of 59:56. Not only was it the first winning time within an hour, but the Kenyan team’s aggregate time of 2:59:54 was also a championship record.
New ground was also broken in the women’s race as Tegla Loroupe won Kenya’s first women’s title – and contributed to their first team medal – with a championship record of 1:08:14. Romania won the women’s team event with a championship record of 3:27:40.
1999 Palermo – closest finish
With just one second separating the top three, the senior men’s race from 1997 remains one of the closest in World Half Marathon Championships history. Paul Tergat’s victory would have been more decisive had an official not accidentally blocked his path in the closing stages. But he still managed to win by a stride as second-placed Hendrick Ramaala was given the same time, 1:01:50.
One week after setting a marathon world record, Tegla Loroupe won the women’s race in 1:08:48.
2001 Bristol – significant stepping stone
Before breaking world records at the marathon, former track specialists Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie first tested the waters at the half-marathon distance.
Radcliffe successfully defended her title from one year prior, winning on home soil with a championship record of 1:06:47. Gebrselassie, in his sole World Half Marathon Championships appearance, won from fellow Ethiopian Tesfaye Jifar.
2004 New Delhi – new territory
The 13th edition of the championships was held for the first time outside of Europe.
While Kenya bagged the most medals, Asia also enjoyed some success with China’s Sun Yingjie winning the women’s race and Qatar’s Ahmed Hassan Abdullah taking bronze in the men’s race.
2005 Edmonton – lessons learned
One of the first rules of athletics is ‘never ease up before the line’ but that was forgotten by Qatar’s Mubarak Hassan Shami after 13 miles of running in the Canadian city of Edmonton, North America's first World Half Marathon Championships.
He had broken away in the final stages and believed he had secured the victory as he coasted towards the finish line. But with just metres remaining, Tanzania’s Fabiano Joseph sprinted past to take gold.
2006 Debrecen – time for a makeover
In 2006, the event’s name changed to the IAAF World Road Running Championships and was held over 20km. The half-marathon distance was reinstated in 2007, followed one year later by the event name.
This edition marked the beginning of Zersenay Tadese’s and Lornah Kiplagat’s reign. Tadese won the men’s race by 40 seconds, while Kiplagat clocked a world record of 1:03:21 for the rarely run distance. Tadese went on to win four more titles, while Kiplagat won again in 2007 and 2008.
2010 Nanning – Kenyans conquer
For the first and only time in the history of the event, one nation took all of the gold medals on offer at the 2010 edition in Nanning.
Kenya’s Wilson Kiprop ended Zersenay Tadese’s string of victories by winning in 1:00:07 and leading his country to team gold. Compatriot Florence Kiplagat was a convincing winner of the women’s race and picked up a second gold in the team event.
2014 Copenhagen – lucky number 13
Kenya put in another overall strong performance in the Danish capital. They achieved the first ever medal sweep of the women’s race by any nation, while Geoffrey Kamworor won the men’s title in 59:08.
But despite Kenya’s strength, Eritrea produced the best team performance in the men’s race with five of their runners finishing within the top eight. Among them was Zersenay Tadese who, despite finishing just outside the individual medals in fourth, earned his sixth gold medal at the championships, increasing his career tally to 13 medals.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF