Paul Tergat clinches his second world half marathon title in 2000 (© Getty Images)
In a masterful display of strength and tactics, World Half Marathon Champion, Paul Tergat of Kenya became the first man ever to successfully defend his title.
Seeming unaffected by the hot and humid conditions that caused the withdrawal of a number of contestants, Tergat strode out in the last kilometre, leaving second-placed Phaustin Baha Sulle of Tanzania powerless.
Tergat spent much of the early stages of the race in the middle of a large leading pack (around thirty runners) that didn’t start to break up until after the halfway mark.
With the early running made by two Rwandan athletes, Nsengiyumva and Disi, the leaders passed five kilometres in 14:48, running tightly grouped.
By the time they hit 10 km, Baha Sulle had already declared his intentions pulling into the lead and keeping his place in the front right up to the finish, trading places occasionally with Kenya’s John Gwako and his own countryman Amnaay Bayo.
Tergat hung back still at this point occasionally moving up a place to join the leaders, then dropping back into the pack and letting Gwako and the other leading Kenyan David Ruto forge his path.
In the final kilometres, Baha Sulle ran alongside Tergat, who was shadowed throughout the final kilometres by Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Jifar, the winner of the bronze medal in Palermo last year.
As they approached the final kilometre, Tergat decided that it was time to up the pressure and made his move, rapidly leaving the other Kenyans in his wake and with only 18-year-old Baha Sulle and Jifar hanging on.
Coming up to the line they too dropped back unable to sustain the pace as Tergat drove towards the finish with a seemingly tireless stride, looking as though he would happily have gone on for a few kilometres more if it had been necessary.
This is indeed what he will be doing sometime next year, as the thirty-one year old finally quits the track and devotes his time to the next challenge – the marathon.
Tergat was elated after his victory: "I am so pleased and happy," he said, "the conditions were very hot, but the course was very good, even though the heat made it very hard.
"It was a hard competition. There were still about eight people in the running right up until the end.
He stressed also the important of the race and the competition rather than times in this level of competition: "Time is not important. The most important thing is position and I was really holding back until the last kilometres."
There had been a team strategy, but this was not in favour of a single athlete: "We planned for us all to try (to win) because we knew that it would be very tough . It is just great that we won the team race too!"
For Tergat, winning in Mexico also had a special significance: "Kenyan athletics really started in Mexico in 1968, at the Olympics, so it makes this win especially important for me."
In the men’s team race, Kenya were first, Ethiopia second and Belgium a surprise third.
Tanzania did not place in the team event as they had only two runners competing. A third team member would almost certainly have given them a medal in this event too.
Sean Wallace-Jones for the IAAF