Yalemzerf Yehualaw wins in Castellon (© NN Running Team)
Rising Ethiopian star Yalemzerf Yehualaw broke the world 10km record* at the Castellón 10K, clocking 29:14 at the World Athletics Label road race held on Sunday (27) in the Spanish coastal city.
In doing so, the world half marathon bronze medallist improved the ratified record of 29:43 by Joyciline Jepkosgei and the yet-to-be-ratified mark of 29:38 set last year by Bahrain’s Kalkidan Gezahegne. She also becomes the first woman in history to dip under the 29:30 and 29:20 barriers on the roads.
It was vindication of sorts for Yehualaw, who for various reasons had missed out on potential world records in recent months. In August last year she clocked 1:03:44 for a half marathon in Larne, which would have been a world record, but the course was found to be 54 metres short. Two months later she replicated that form with a 1:03:51 clocking in Valencia – which would have also been a world record, were it not for the fact that Letesenbet Gidey finished ahead of her in a world record of 1:02:52.
Yehualaw had intended to break the world record at the 10K Valencia at the start of January, but a positive Covid test ruled her out of the event. But she was finally able to enjoy a disruption-free preparation for today’s race in Castellon, and after all her previous near-misses, she didn’t want to let the opportunity go to waste.
In a race held under ideal weather conditions (12C and no wind), and with pacing assistance from Dutch distance runner Richard Douma, Yehualaw set off at a swift pace. The opening kilometre was covered in 2:51, which was then followed with successive splits of 2:52 and 2:53. By 3km, reached in 8:36, Yehualaw was on pace for a sub-29-minute finish.
She went through halfway in a stunning 14:28 – one of the fastest 5km clockings in history – and was still inside 29-minute pace. The Ethiopian’s rhythm slowed a bit during the second half, her seventh kilometre of 3:00 being the slowest of her run, but a final kilometre of 2:52 (and a second half of 14:46) was enough to carry her to a 29:14 finish.
For 10,000m on the track, only two women have bettered Yehualaw’s time: her compatriot Letesenbet Gidey (29:01:03) and Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands (29:06.82).
Further back, Kenya's Vicoty Chepngeno, who last month won the Houston Half Marathon in a big PB of 1:05:03, finished second in 30:14, while 2013 world 5000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono completed the podium in 30:48.
“It was hard for me not to be able to compete in Valencia in January but I resumed my training and faced today’s race very optimistically,” said Yehualaw, whose idols include Haile Gebrselassie and Meseret Defar. “I knew I had the world record in my legs and wanted to produce a challenging performance for any athletes who may attempt the record in the near future.
“I'll likely do a half marathon in the coming months,” added Yehualaw, who is coached by Tessema Abshero. “I won't focus on the track season because I probably wouldn’t challenge for a place on Ethiopia’s 10,000m team for the World Championships. Instead, I plan to tackle the marathon later in the year and the World Half Marathon Championships in Yangzhou in November.”
The men’s race was won by Kenya's Ronald Kwemoi in a course record of 27:16 ahead of his brother Samwel Chebolei (27:18) while Ethiopia's Tadese Takele completed the podium in 27:20.
In the absence of pacemakers, the leading trio ran together throughout. Chebolei, fresh from convincing wins at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships and the Cross Country Tour Gold meeting in Eldoret, took on most of the pacing duties with Kwemoi and steeplechaser Takele tucked behind.
Kwemoi, the world U20 1500m record-holder, waited until the final 400 metres to unleash a devastating final kick, winning in 27:16 in what was his first ever road race. Chebolei had to settle for second place in 27:18 and debutant Takele was third in 27:20.
“I enjoyed the race, the circuit is very fast,” said Kwemoi, a multiple world and Olympic finalist over 1500m, who intends to stick to his specialist distance this year. “I decided to attack only in the closing stages as I'm a 1500m runner and knew I would be able to win that way.”
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
*Subject to the usual ratification procedure
1 Yalemzerf Yehualaw (ETH) 29:14
2 Vicoty Chepngeno (KEN) 30:14
3 Mercy Cherono (KEN) 30:48
4 Naomi Chepngeno (KEN) 31:33
5 Valentine Jebet (KEN) 32:51
1 Ronald Kwemoi (KEN) 27:16
2 Samwel Chebolei (KEN) 27:18
3 Tadese Takele Bikila (ETH) 27:21
4 Thierry Ndikumwenayo (BDI) 28:04
5 Hicham Sigueni (MAR) 28:58