Mule Wasihun wins the Barcelona Half Marathon (© Organisers)
Ethiopia’s Mule Wasihun took an overwhelming victory at the eDreams Mitja Marato Barcelona, winning the IAAF Gold Label road race comfortably in a course record of 59:44 on Sunday (11).
The 24-year-old took 20 seconds off the previous course record set five years ago by Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge.
Bahrain’s Tejitu Daba confirmed her status as pre-event favourite in the women’s race to win in 1:08:36, one second ahead of Ethiopia’s Dibabe Kuma, who took 41 seconds off her career best.
The men’s race kicked off with the thermometer barely reaching 4C but that was no barrier for a brisk early pace as pacemaker Alex Kibarus led the main group to a 14:23 five-kilometre split. By then seven men remained at the front: the Ethiopian duo of Wasihun and Azmeraw Mengistu, the Ugandan pair of Moses Kurong and Abdallah Mande, the Kenyan tandem of Meshack Koech and last year’s winner Leonard Langat and Switzerland’s Julien Wanders, who ran closest to the pacer.
Surprisingly, the 21-year-old Swiss ran comfortably in the leading group 20 seconds ahead of Britain’s Ben Connor, himself another eight seconds clear of another Briton Luke Traynor.
The following five-kilometre section was a bit faster and the leaders reached 10 kilometres in 28:36, still a few seconds outside the course record schedule. By then, Connor had slightly reduced the gap to the main group to 17 seconds but Traynor, timed at 29:18, had lost ground.
Once the pacesetter left, Wanders took command of the race. Mengistu could not live with his pace and the heading group was whittled down to six men by the time they reached 15 kilometres in 42:47.
Shortly afterwards, eventual victor Wasihun – a creditable 2:05:39 marathon performer last October in Amsterdam – made his move and easily broke away thanks to a frantic 14:01 split on the slightly uphill section of the race. Within a matter of 300 metres, he had built a 20-second advantage over Wanders and Kurong while Mande, Langat and Koech travelled another four seconds in arrears.
At the tape, the Ethiopian secured a course record of 59:44 to improve on his previous best of 1:00:08 while Wanders fiercely battled with Kurong for the runner-up spot which he finally managed in a huge PB and Swiss record of 1:00:09. Kurong had to settle for the third place on the podium, one second in arrears.
Further behind, Connor had joined a fading Mengistu before the 20-kilometre point, but the Ethiopian eventually prevailed over the Briton (1:01:10 vs 1:01:12), a massive three-minute improvement for Connor, whose compatriots Traynor (1:01:57, PB too) and Jonny Mellor (1:03:17) completed a classy top 10.
“Running in Barcelona has been a fantastic experience,” said Wasihun. “I felt fine throughout but I didn’t think of setting such a good time today. After halfway, I realised I could beat the course record and I went for it.”
“I’m delighted with my performance today,” said an elated Wanders. “The race has been nearly perfect in terms of weather, rivals, pacesetting, so I can’t ask for more. I’m now looking forward to competing at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia on 24 March.”
Wanders has been living in the Kenyan city of Iten for the past four years. His 1:00:09 clocking is also a European under-23 record and moves him to sixth on the European all-time list.
Daba wins close contest
Held simultaneously with the men’s event, the women’s contest began quite conservatively as the six-woman leading group went through the opening five kilometres in 16:55. That pack comprised Bahrain’s Daba and Mimi Belete, Rwanda’s Salome Nyirarukundo, Kenya’s Susan Kipsang, Ethiopia’s Dibabe Kuma and Tanzania’s Failuna Matanga.
The second five-kilometre segment was much brisker as the 20-year-old Rwandan’s front-running tactics led to a 32:53 split at 10 kilometres. Kipsang could not maintain that kind of pace and had lost 15 seconds by then.
Belete was the second casualty of Nyirarukundu’s fast rhythm. The former 1500m specialist dropped from the main group shortly before the 15-kilometre checkpoint when only Daba, Kuma and Matanga remained in the Rwandan’s wake, clocking 49:06.
When Matanga began to lose ground with the clock reading 59:00, it became clear that Nyirarukundu, Daba and Kuma would be the athletes who would make it on to the podium. Over the closing kilometre the former began to falter for the first time after her powerful display of front running and the race became a two-way fight.
After a long sprint finish, Daba prevailed over Kuma by one second, 1:08:36 and 1:08:37. Nyirarukundo finished third in 1:08:48, taking almost three minutes off her own national record.
“It was my first time in Barcelona; my win has been difficult but I finally managed to be the winner after a close sprint,” said Daba. “The crowd assembled in the streets helped me to keep me strong until the end.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Mule Wasihun (ETH) 59:44
2 Julien Wanders (SUI) 1:00:09
3 Moses Kurong (UGA) 1:00:10
4 Abdallah Mande (UGA) 1:00:18
5 Leonard Langat (KEN) 1:00:20
6 Meshack Koech (KEN) 1:01:05
7 Azmeraw Mengistu (ETH) 1:01:10
8 Ben Connor (GBR) 1:01:12
9 Luke Traynor (GBR) 1:01:57
10 Jonny Mellor (GBR) 1:03:17
1 Tejitu Daba (BRN) 1:08:36
2 Dibabe Kuma (ETH) 1:08:37
3 Salome Nyirarukundo (RWA) 1:08:48
4 Mimi Belete (BRN) 1:09:26
5 Failuna Matanga (TAN) 1:09:36
6 Susan Kipsang (KEN) 1:12:28
7 Sonia Samuels (GBR) 1:12:40
8 Katrina Wootton (GBR) 1:12:50
9 Mekdes Woldu (ERI) 1:12:53
10 Corina Harrer (GER) 1:13:21