Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands and Mary Jepkosgei Keitany of Kenya in action (© Getty Images)
Lornah Kiplagat having insisted in midweek that 20 kilometres and the Half Marathon were her best racing distances proved her self belief with a stunning performance at the 2nd IAAF World Road Running Championships in Udine.
Kiplagat, competing for only the second time since picking up an early summer calf injury which kept her out of the World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, broke the World record for both, with an unbelievable display in this ancient north east Italian city.
The 33-year-old Kenyan-born defending champion shattered by 24 seconds the 20km record of 1:03:21 to 1:02:57*, which she achieved with her World Road Running Championships victory in Debrecen a year ago, then speeding through the last kilometre, claimed the gold medal over the the Half Marathon distance in a time of 1:06:25*.
That sliced 19 seconds from the previous IAAF World record of 1:06:44 which South Africa's Elana Meyer set eight years ago with her victory in Tokyo, although the world's fastest-ever time stands to Paula Radcliffe who ran 1:05:40 on the slightly downhill BUPA Great Run course from Newcastle to South Shields in 2003.
Kiplagat - never under pressure
Kiplagat never looking under any pressure controlled the race throughout, only runner-up Mary Keitany whose determination saw her rewarded with a Kenyan record of 1:06:48, posing any real opposition.
Keitany who struck a second from the national figure Esther Wanjiru Maina set eight years ago in Tokyo, was followed home by teammate Pamela Chepchumba who ran a personal best 1:08:06.
The pair's podium finishes and the sixth placing of Everline Kimwei, saw Kenya retain its team title with an aggregate time of 3:23:33 from the silver and bronze medallists in Debrecen a year ago Ethiopia and Japan, who recorded 3:25:51 and 3:27:39.
Indeed with fourth placed Bezunesh Bekele lowering Berhane Adere's Ethiopian national record by 10 seconds to 1:08:17 and 17 lifetime bests from the top 20 finishers, there were many marvellous achievements from the strong running entrants.
But the day was dominated by Kiplagat, determined after winning the World Cross Country title in March on "home" territory in Mombassa, to capture another gold medal for her adopted nation The Netherlands, which she has represented for the last four years since marrying husband/coach Pieter Langerhorst.
Kiplagat's immediate post race reaction was to pay tribute to her rivals, particularly those from her former country who made it the best ever women's Half Marathon race at global level.
Kiplagat winner of the US$30,000 dollars first prize plus a US$50,000 World Record bonus, said: "In Kenya for years, people didn't believe women could run so well."
"Look at the development now. In Osaka the women got as many of the headlines as the men."
"I sit here in a Dutch vest with two Kenyan girls next to me - that's the development of Kenyan women's running for me."
Keitany admitted running alongside Kiplagat had motivated her througout the competition. She said: "Yes, I was feeling very confident, because Lornah was running with me."
"Of course, she is a role model and someone to follow (inspirationally) so I'm happy to be second here today."
Kiplagat takes early command
The race got underway with the tall figure of Kiplagat moving to the front after the first 800m, leading a pack of seven tinier African-born athletes through 5km in 15:38, with the USA's Deena Kastor two seconds off the pace.
Kenya defending its World Road Running Championships title took an early lead in the team event with an aggregate time of 46:54, ahead of Ethiopia (47:12) and Japan (48:20).
Two kilometres later at the completion of the first lap, Kiplagat headed her former Kenyan colleagues Chepchumba, Keitany and Kimwei and the Ethiopian duo of Bekele and Atsede Hatamu.
Kastor the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medallist, had fallen off the pace while Kenya's three-times former World Half Marathon champion Susan Chepkemei a pre-race favourite, was struggling outside of the top 20.
Keitany who came to the championships with two Half Marathon victories in Lozere and Lille under her belt, then split up the field, her sustained burst, seeing only Kiplagat respond.
The pair after a 15min 32sec split, went through 10km in 31:10, with Chepchumba and Bekele nine seconds off the pace, followed by Kimwei who passed the marker in 31:28.
Kenya extended its lead in the team contest with a time of 1:33:57 from Ethiopia (1:35:03) while Romania leapfrogged into third with a mark of 1:36:44.
Kiplagat a kilometre before the start of the final circuit moved into a higher gear, opening a gap of four seconds, although Keitany was fighting hard to get back into contention.
And a near WR miss at 15km
Then around half a minute behind came Chepchumba in the past twice a fifth finisher in the World Half Marathon Championships, with Bekele last month's Lisbon Half Marathon champion on her shoulder.
Kiplagat powering through 15km in 46:59, was just four seconds away from Japan's Kayoko Fukushi's World record, although Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe went through the distance in 46:41 at the 2003 GNR which as stated earlier is run on a downhill course unsuitable for record ratification. Kiplagat's time was though a European record the previous being the 47:10 she achieved in Debrecen with Constantina Tomescu of Romania.
Keitany at that point cut the lead lead to two seconds, which seemed to act as the challenge Kiplagat needed and whose response resulted in the finest victory of her already distinguished career.
David Martin (Press Association) for the IAAF
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**World records subject to the usual ratification procedures