Yalemzerf Yehualaw wins the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (Procam International) © Copyright
Preview Madrid, Spain

Yehualaw and Simiu poised to strike in Madrid


The 56th edition of the San Silvestre Vallecana will be held, as is tradition, on New Year’s Eve in Madrid, but this year there have been some significant changes to the World Athletics Gold Label road race.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers have been forced to design a new circuit and so the race won’t start alongside Real Madrid’s famous Santiago Bernabeu stadium, nor will it finish in the stadium of another Spanish first division football club, Rayo Vallecano. Instead, competitors will have to cover four laps of a flat 2.5km circuit, meaning – unlike previous years when the race was held on a slightly downhill course – performances will be record-eligible.

The mass race, which often attracts about 40,000 runners, has been cancelled and only the elite contests will be held with separate starts for men and women.

The showdown between Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw and Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich in the women’s race promises to be one of the highlights of the evening.

Yehualaw is in the form of her life. After taking bronze at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships Gdynia 2020, the 21-year-old Ethiopian stormed to a 1:04:46 victory over the same distance in New Delhi in late November, beating Chepngetich in the process. Yehualaw now sits second on the world all-time list behind compatriot Ababel Yeshaneh, while Chepngetich, the world marathon champion, emerged from New Delhi with a lifetime best of 1:05:06.

Yehualaw’s fastest clocking in a standalone 10km race is 31:55, recorded more than a year ago at altitude in Addis Ababa. It’s worth noting, however, that she recorded 30:49 and 30:43 for the two 10km sections in New Delhi.

Chepngetich, meanwhile, has an official PB of 31:12 and she recorded 30:57 on Madrid’s downhill course last year. She, too, passed through the first 10km in New Delhi in 30:49.

Ethiopia’s Likina Amebaw, a 32:55 performer over 10km, is expected to battle with top Spaniards Lucía Rodríguez and Irene Sánchez-Escribano in the hunt for a place on the podium.

The men’s race features Olympic 5000m silver medallist Paul Chelimo. Having finished fourth and second at the World Athletics Cross Country Permit meetings in Elgoibar and Seville respectively in January, the 30-year-old US distance runner will compete in Spain for the third time this year.

His most recent outing was a cross-country race in November in Terre Haute where he finished second. His last completed race before that was the 3000m at the US Indoor Championships, which he won. Chelimo’s main aim in Madrid will be to break the US 10km record of 27:48, co-held by Bernard Lagat and Mark Nenow. The continental record of 27:41, held by Mexico’s Arturo Barrios, could also be within his sights.

Kenya’s Daniel Simiu Ebenyo appears to be the most in-form athlete heading into the race. The 25-year-old set a big 10km PB of 27:18 in Berlin in September to move to fourth on this season’s list.

Burundi’s Thierry Ndikumwenayo, who finished ninth at the 2019 World Cross in Aarhus, is also one to watch. He has recently enjoyed a one-month training stint in Tenerife in the company of Italian 3000m and 5000m record-holder Yemaneberhan Crippa.

Many of the top Spaniards will be in Madrid, headed by Ouassim Oumaiz, Toni Abadía, Javier Guerra, Fernando Carro, Ayad Lamdassem and Yago Rojo. Oumaiz improved to 13:13.14 over 5000m this summer, Abadía holds the national 10km record at 27:48, Guerra is fresh from a 1:01:21 PB at the Valencia Half Marathon, European steeplechase silver medallist Carro clocked 27:46 last month at a downhill event in Alcobendas, 39-year-old Lamdassem is the newly-minted Spanish marathon record-holder with a 2:06:35 clocking in Valencia, and Rojo is a newcomer to the elite, having run under 2:10 on his marathon debut earlier this month.

Mike Foppen of the Netherlands has enjoyed a strong 2020 campaign, breaking the national 5000m record with 13:13.06 in Monaco and clocking a 10,000m PB of 27:59.10 in Lieden. He should be a factor in Madrid, while compatriot Richard Douma (28:08), Sweden’s David Nilsson (28:12) and Israel’s Maru Teferi (28:18) complete the international line-up.

Weather forecasters predict a cold night (5C) by the time of the event and a high likelihood of rain.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics