Ali Kaya on his way to victory at the 2016 Istanbul Half Marathon (© Bob Ramsak / organisers)
Local star Ali Kaya and Kenya’s Violah Jepchumba cruised to dominating victories at the third edition of the Vodafone Istanbul Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday (24).
Kaya, last year’s European cross country champion, clocked 1:00:16 to win by 15 seconds.
“It felt very, very good,” said Kaya, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on 20 April, when sizing up his first victory in an international road race. “I finished with a lot of power. For sure I could have been even faster. We were hoping for under 60 minutes.”
Unfortunately, a sluggish 15:04 opening 5km immediately put the goal of Istanbul’s first sub-hour race in severe jeopardy.
The pace picked up over the next five kilometres, but even then the 28:40 10km split was still 30 seconds off the pre-race plan, which meant a hefty group of 11 was still in contention after 10km, a pack that was reduced to eight by 15km, passed in 42:30.
Among them were Zersenay Tadese, now 34 and still the world record holder in the half marathon, and Leonard Komon, the world standard bearer in the 10km and 15km. Leonard Langat, who clocked a solid 59:18 Rome-Ostia Half Marathon last month, was in the hunt as well, along with Kaya, who was just biding his time.
“The first 10k was a little bit slow, so we tried to push in the last 10k,” reflected Kaya. “It was very windy towards the end but I finished with a lot of power.”
He made his break in the 18th kilometre, building an 11-second lead by 20km to finish unchallenged.
Kaya said his focus will now turn towards a 5000m/10,000m double at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. He was a finalist at both distances at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 last summer, finishing seventh in the longer race.
Tadese still has a turn of speed
In the battle for the minor places, Komon was first of the quartet to be dropped, leaving Langat and Tadese to try to stay in contention with Ali in the hope that he would weaken and slow.
They didn’t manage to chip away at the deficit, and instead took turns at trying to claim second place.
Tadese broke from the Kenyan for good with just under a kilometre remaining to finish second in 1:00:31 in his first race since late November.
Langat was third in 1:00:39 with Komon a distant fourth in 1:00:48.
Arriving just three weeks from her world-leading 1:05:51 performance in Prague, Jepchumba was clearly the woman to beat, a role she lived up to valiantly.
Running alone on the largely flat picturesque out-and-back course along the Sea of Marmara, the 25-year-old Jepchumba was already nine seconds ahead of Ethiopia’s Meskerem Assefa after 5km and forged on to increase her lead with every passing kilometre.
At 10km, reached in 31:37, she was 37 seconds ahead; at 15km was passed in 47:25 and Jepchumba was a full minute clear of her closest pursuer.
“Running by myself is easy,” commented Jepchumba. “The wind was a problem towards the end, and it was hot.”
Unlike Kaya, Jepchumba isn’t eying Rio and, instead, her mind is already on her next half marathon, the Goteborgsvarvet Half Marathon in Gothenburg, Sweden, next month.
“I like (this distance) very much,” she said.
Assefa clocked 1:09:39 to finish second with her compatriot Amane Gobena third in 1:09:50.
Bob Ramsak (organisers) for the IAAF