Peres Jepchirchir victorious at the Valencia Marathon (Organisers) © Copyright
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Jepchirchir and Chebet power to Kenyan double at Valencia Marathon


Evans Chebet and Peres Jepchirchir secured a Kenyan double at the Marathon Valencia Trinidad Alfonso EDP, a World Athletics Platinum Label road race, in the eastern Spanish city on Sunday (6).

In the women’s race Jepchirchir clocked 2:17:16 to move up to No 5 on the all-time world list while Chebet defeated the main favourites with a stunning 2:03:00 performance to improve on his previous best by over four minutes.

At the pre-race press conference, the reigning world half marathon champion had declared she was fully confident of bettering her personal best of 2:23:50 given her outstanding performances over the shorter distance this year, 1:05:34 in Prague and 1:05:16 at the World Championships in Gdynia. The only question looming was by how much. The 27-year-old’s answer? A massive six minutes-plus. 

Booster by pacemakers Tadesse Mamo and Dereje Urjecha, the leading group covered the opening kilometres at a 3:18 per kilometre clip. By the 10-kilometre point the lead group was made up by 10 athletes: the Kenyan quartet of Jepchirchir, Joan Chelimo, Joyciline Jepkosgei and Fancy Chemutai, the Ethiopian quintet of Zeineba Yimer, Tigist Yirma, Degitu Azemiraw, Birhane Dibaba and Ruti Aga, the fastest entrant, plus Namibia’s Helaria Johannes, who raced to bronze medal at last year’s World Championships at age 39.

Around the midway point, crossed in a fine 1:09:01, the lead pack began to break up, leaving only Jepchirchir, Jepkosgei, who broke the world half marathon record here in 2017, and Johannes in contention for the win as the top Ethiopians struggled to maintain contact with the pacesetters.

Jepchirchir found herself alone in the 29th kilometre as firstly the Namibian and shortly thereafter Jepkosgei began to slightly falter. Underscoring her strength, Jepchirchir upped the pace with a 32:05 split between kilometres 30 and 40km before forging onwards to the line unchallenged.

Closing with a 1:08:15 second half, a smiling Jepchirchir broke the tape in 2:17:16 to improve Aga’s course record by over a minute. Runner-up Jepkosgei (2:18:40) and third-placed Johannes (2:19:59) also destroyed their previous bests of 2:22:38 and 2:22:25, the Namibian setting a new national record in the process.

"It was a great day for me and I thank God for it," Jepchirchir said. "I was a bit afraid of the distance but I wanted to win. Once I realised I had a lot of strength today I decided to accelerate looking for the course record and my career best."

The Ethiopian contingent of Yimer, Girma and Azemiraw also managed to finish under 2:20 with defending champion Aga just shy of that barrier, clocking 2:20:03 to finish seventh.

Chebet surprises the favourites

The men’s event, overshadowed by the day’s world record attempt over the shorter distance, also featured a quality field capable of running under the course record of 2:03:51 set last year by Kinde Ayalew.

The large leading pack clocked respective early splits of 14:40 at five kilometres and 29:21 at 10 to eventually reach the halfway point in 1:01:40 - well inside course record pace. Eleven runners remained in the leading group. The first casualty was European record-holder Kaan Kigen Ozbilen, who was running more than a minute behind.

As was the case in the half marathon races, the course’s faster second half profile allowed the pace to heat up. The leaders reached 30 kilometres in 1:27:40, suggesting a sub-2:03 finish. The Kenyan trio of Chebet, Lawrence Cherono and Amos Kipruto plus Ethiopia’s pre-race favourite, Birhanu Legese, the quickest man in the line-up, kept up the tempo.

The 32-year-old Chebet made his move 39.5 kilometres in with only Cherono hanging on as first Kipruto and then Legese began to drift back. While fighting fiercely for the win, Chebet and Cherono shared the pacing duties over the closing kilometres trying to keep Legese, a strong finisher, at a distance. The team tactic paid off leaving the Kenyan pair to battle for the win. Chebet produced another powerful late burst to take command and romp home in 2:03:00, moving up to No 7 on the all-time list.

"The experience has been great as I improved my PB by two minutes on a fantastic circuit," Chebet said. "Anyway, my main goal was to be among the top three Kenyans thinking of the Tokyo Olympics selection."

Each of the top-five finishers improved on their respective career bests except for Legese while the first 11 ducked under 2:06. Spain’s 39-year-old Ayad Lamdassem set a national record of 2:06:35, finishing 11th.

Leading results:
MEN -
1. Evans Chebet (KEN) 2:03:00
2. Lawrence Cherono (KEN) 2:03:04
3. Birhanu Legese (ETH) 2:03:16
4. Amos Kipruto (KEN) 2:03:30
5. Reuben Kerio (KEN) 2:04:12
6. Chalu Desso (ETH) 2:04:53
7. Abel Kirui (KEN) 2:05:05
8. Abebe Negewo Degefa (ETH) 2:05:15
9. Leul Gebresilase (ETH) 2:05:29
10. Philemon Rono (KEN) 2:05:37

WOMEN -
1. Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) 2:17:16
2. Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) 2:18:40
3. Helaria Johannes(NAM) 2:19:52
4. Zeineba Yimer (ETH) 2:19:54
5. Degitu Azimeraw (ETH) 2:19:56
6. Tigist Girma (ETH) 2:19:56
7. Ruti Aga (ETH) 2:20:05
8. Joan Melly (KEN) 2:20:57
9. Birhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:23:07
10. Fancy Chemutai (KEN) 2:24:27

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics