Kenya’s world champion Peres Jepchirchir kept her stellar 2016 momentum alive with a convincing victory at the Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Half Marathon yesterday.
The 23-year-old set a new course record of 1:07:09, well ahead of the sensation of the year Viola Jepchumba, who clocked 1:08:23.
On the men’s side, their Kenyan compatriot Stephen Kosgei Kibet grabbed a fine win in 59:27 while unheralded Moroccan Mustapha El Aziz finished runner-up three seconds behind.
Expectations were indeed higher in both categories but ultimately the temperature was higher than expected, 20ºC at the start and reaching 22ºC at the finish, which clearly hampered the athletes’ efforts.
After Saturday’s technical meeting, the women’s event was billed as a serious attack on Florence Kiplagat’s world record of 1:05:09 set in Barcelona last year. Towards that end, Spaniard Marc Roig was enlisted to pace Jepchumba and Jepchirchir at a steady 3:05 per kilometre.
However, as in her fast outings in Prague over 10km and half marathon, Jepchumba decided to follow the pace dictated by her husband, a tempo significantly faster than Roig’s. She cruised through the first five kilometres in 15:20, some 11 seconds ahead of Kiplagat’s record opening split, with Jepchirchir, choosing to stick on Roig’s shoulder, coming through in 15:25.
Jepchumba reached 10km mark in 30:57, still five seconds inside the record, with Jepchirchir trailing six seconds behind. That pace proved too aggressive as the second half began. Jepchirchir overtook Jepchumba in the 12th kilometre, and reached the 15-km marker in 47:01. Jepchumba, reportedly suffering problems in her right foot, fell back drastically, reaching 15km in 47:21 for a sluggish 16:24 five kilometre split.
Once the pacesetter dropped out, Jepchirchir was largely on her own to the finish, lopping 25 seconds from the course record set last year. A faltering Jepchumba had to settle for the runner-up spot in 1:08:23 on the day of her 26th birthday. Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was third in 1:09:36.
“I’m satisfied with my win and the pacemaker’s work, I suffered a bit when I had to perform by myself,” said Jepchirchir, who raced just two weeks after an another half marathon win in Eldoret, Kenya. “The last kilometres were tough for me but I managed a course record which makes me very happy.”
The men’s race kicked-off at a steady 2:48 per kilometre pace powered by a group of three pacemakers headed by Edwin Rotich who went through the first five kilometre check point in 14:01. Ten athletes remained in the leading group but surprisingly defending champion Abraham Cheroben seemed to be in trouble while world 10km and 15km record holder Leonard Komon was never a factor. Among the favourites, it was Stephen Kibet who was the most active.
The rhythm remained unchanged at 10km, covered in 28:03, but with the lead group whittled down to six: the Kenyan quartet of Kibet, Edwin Rotich, Geoffrey Yegon and Solomon Kirwa Yego and the Moroccan pair of El Aziz and Mourad Marofit. Yego was the first to drift back as the leaders approached 15 kilometres, where the 42:20 split suggested that a sub-59 run was out of reach.
A key movement came with the clock reading 50 minutes when Kibet unleashed a powerful kick to leave all but El Aziz, who arrived with a 1:00:39 career best, behind. The closing stages remained exciting with El Aziz fighting on. Ultimately Kibet kept El Aziz at bay to cross the finish line in 59:27 to win by three seconds. Rotich and Marofit fought fiercely for the third podium spot with the Kenyan prevailing in 59:33 to the Moroccan’s 59:34, a massive improvement on his 1:01:43 previous best from 2006. Geoffrey Yegon was fifth in 59:46, a record for sub-60-minute performances at this event.
“I felt really strong throughout, I was aiming for a faster time but it was not finally possible,” Kibet said. “So I would like to comeback next year and get it.”
Defending champion Abraham Cheroben of Bahrain was a distant ninth in 1:01:56.
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