Sammy Wanjiru celebrates his Half Marathon World Record in Ras al Khaimah (© Pat Butcher)
Ras al Khaimah, United Arab EmiratesSammy Wanjiru of Kenya broke the World Half Marathon record* with a scintillating display of front-running in the Ras Al Khaimah International Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates early this morning (9 February).
Wanjiru, just 20 years old, clocked 58:53, and in fact retrieved the World Record, taken from him by Ethiopian ‘great’ Haile Gebrselassie, who ran 58:55 in Phoenix, Arizona on 15 January 2006. Then officially a junior, Wanjiru had set the previous record one year earlier, with 59:16 in Rotterdam.
When ‘Geb’ set his World Record, he was paced in what became a solo run, whereas Wanjiru today dismantled one of the best fields ever assembled, thanks to the record overall prize money of $155,000 on offer in Ras Al Khaimah.
The youngest man in the field, Wanjiru was up against the former World champion at the distance, Fabiano Joseph of Tanzania, who eventually finished seventh; winner of the Boston and Chicago Marathons, Robert Cheruyiot, who finished fifth; and a host of other top east and north Africans, the acknowledged masters of modern distance running.
Aggressive front running
Wanjiru set about his task with a will, shooting to the front of a field of around 15 men who hurtled through five kilometres in 13:27. That was slightly downhill, whereas the second 5k of the out-and-back course was slightly uphill. That was covered in 14:20, for an outrageous 10k ‘split’ of 27:47, which would do credit to a track runner. By this time, the contenders were down to four, Wanjiru heading fellow Kenyans, Patrick Makau and Francis Kibiwott, and Deriba Merga of Ethiopia. Cheruyiot, Joseph and his Tanzanian colleague, John Yuda were 20 seconds back, with the pack another 20 seconds behind them.
Wanjiru was briefly headed at several stages, but never for more than 100 metres before he surged back into the lead. With similar gradients on the road back, the third and fourth 5k sections were run in 13:42 and 14:21. Kibiwott had dropped away by then, and the most serious threat to Wanjiru came when Merga took the lead with just two kilometres to run. But it was a ploy to try and slow the pace, which brought a rapid response from Makau and Wanjiru, the latter saying afterwards, “I thought I could win from about 15k, the others seemed to be tiring. I knew the Ethiopian was bluffing when he took the lead.”
Makau, who eventually finished second said, “When there were three of us, Wanjiru and me talked together in our language (Swahili), and said, ‘Come on, let’s drop this guy (Merga)’,” which they promptly did. That was the signal for Wanjiru to stretch away by himself, and with just over three minutes for the last kilometre and 97 metres, making up the 21.1Km distance, he sprinted home to victory and the World Record*. Makau was second in 59:13, the third fastest time in history, and Merga was third in 59:43.
Gebrselassie - I'll get the record back 'as soon as I can find another Half Marathon'
“I’m very happy to get my world record back after Haile broke it last year,” said Wanjiru. Contacted by telephone in Addis Ababa by Getaneh Tedessa, one of his management company representatives, Gebrselassie promised a quick response, “as soon as I can find another half-marathon”. That will have to wait until after Gebrselassie runs the Flora London Marathon in April, against another top-class field, including Marathon World record holder, Paul Tergat, who was at the finish line as a (non-competing) guest of honour, picking up a cheque from the Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah for the Paul Tergat Foundation.
Adere leads Ethiopian podium sweep
The women’s race was a more sedate affair, with a group of a dozen running together until around 16Km. That was whittled down to a half dozen by the last kilometre, and eventual winner, Berhane Adere sprinted away in the last 600 metres. The former world 10,000 metres champion from Ethiopia won in 1:10:58, ahead of colleagues, Teyiba Erkesse, second in 1:11:02, and Bizunesh Bekele, third in 1:11:06.
But the day belonged to Wanjiru. His winning cheque, like that for Adere was $20,000. But with one of the objects of the race to put Ras Al Khaimah on the map, the man most responsible for the development of one of the smaller of the Emirates, the Crown Prince, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, showed his appreciation of Wanjiru’s geography lesson by giving the young Kenyan an impromptu $5000 bonus.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
* pending the usual ratification procedures
Leading Results [NB: results updated 11-February]:
1. Sammy Wanjiru, KEN 58:53
2. Patrick Makau, KEN 59:13
3. Deriba Merga, ETH 59:43
4. Francis Kibiwott, KEN 1:00:07
5. Robert Cheruyiot, KEN 1:00:37
6. John Yuda, TAN 1:00:38
7. Fabiano Joseph, TAN 1:00:53
8. Matthew Koech, KEN 1:00:57
9. Mubarak Shami, QAT 1:01:03
10. Solomon Busendich, KEN 1:01:16
1. Berhane Adere, ETH 1:10:58
2. Teybia Erkesso, ETH 1:11:03
3. Bizunesh Bekele, ETH 1:11:07
4. Dire Tune, ETH 1:11:11
5. Rita Jeptoo, KEN 1:11:18
6. Caroline Cheptanui, KEN 1:11:32
7. Salina Kosgei, KEN 1:11:35
8. Everline Kimwei, KEN 1:11:44
9. Hellen Cherono, KEN 1:11:48
10. Cathy Mutwa, KEN 1:11:50
11. Asmae Leghzaoui, MAR 1:12:07
12. Hilalia Johannes, NAM 1:12:18