Report22 Oct 2023

Kandie and Chelimo victorious in Valencia


Kibiwott Kandie wins the 2023 Valencia Half Marathon (© Organisers)

Kibiwott Kandie ran the fourth-fastest time in history to win a close men’s race while Margaret Chelimo moved into the all-time top 10 to claim the women’s title and secure a Kenyan double at the Valencia Half Marathon Trinidad Alfonso Zurich, a World Athletics Gold Label road race, on Sunday (22).

Held under ideal weather conditions with a temperature of 15°C at the start and no wind, the men's event saw four athletes break 58 minutes, led by Kandie's 57:40. Making his first appearance over the distance this year, the former world record-holder achieved his third win in Valencia to deny some top-class competition. Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha was second in a national record of 57:41 and he was followed over the finish line by his compatriots Hagos Gebrhiwet, who matched Kejelcha’s time, and Selemon Barega, who ran 57:50 in the second half marathon of his career.

In the women's race, Chelimo dipped under 1:05 for the first time to win in a PB of 1:04:46 ahead of her compatriots Irine Cheptai, who clocked 1:04:53, and Janet Chepngetich, who ran 1:05:15.

Hat-trick for Kandie

The pacemakers went out at a steady 2:45/km pace to target a finish time of around 58 minutes as agreed at the pre-race technical meeting. But Kandie clearly had other ideas and just before the 5km checkpoint the defending champion overtook the pacemakers after unleashing a devastating change of speed which saw him cover that kilometre in a frantic 2:39 to reach 5km in 13:43.

Only two athletes could live with that pace: the gold and silver 5km medallists at the recent World Road Running Championships in Riga, Gebrhiwet and Kejelcha. Surprisingly, world half marathon champion Sebastian Sawe remained in the chasing group, while Olympic 10,000m champion Barega managed to rejoin the leading group one kilometre later.

Kandie pushed hard to cover the next 3km split in a blistering 8:08, always with the threatening Ethiopian trio on his shoulder. They went through the 10km mark in 27:15, a time that predicted a 57:29 finish to indicate that the world record of 57:31 set by Jacob Kiplimo in Lisbon in 2021 was feasible. Kandie was just one second slower than Kiplimo’s mark when he broke the world record to win in Valencia in 2020.

Some 31 minutes into the race, Barega moved to the front for the first time. The fast pace maintained, with several kilometre splits of 2:42, but after a 13th kilometre covered in 2:50, Kandie regained the lead as he tried to leave his rivals behind before the closing stages.

The lead quartet cruised through the 15km point in 41:01 following a slower three kilometre split of 8:24 to forecast a 57:39 final time, but the possibility of a world record and a thrilling finish was still there as four top athletes remained in contention.

Barega was the first to drop as he began to lose ground just before the 19th kilometre and shortly afterwards Kejelcha – the world indoor record-holder for the mile – took the lead to go through that 19th kilometre in 51:52, just three seconds outside of the required world record pace. From there, the race turned into a tactical affair as victory became the priority of the leading trio.

At that point, the race looked like it might be between Kejelcha and Gebrhiwet, given their track credentials, but it was Kandie who found another gear with some 380m left to run and his Ethiopian opponents could not replicate his sudden burst of speed.

Kandie crossed the finish line in 57:40, the second-fastest time of his career behind his former world record of 57:32. He now has two of the four fastest half marathon times in history and the performance is a world lead of almost one minute.

Kejelcha kept Gebrhiwet at bay to get some revenge following his defeat in Riga as he shattered his own Ethiopian record by 51 seconds. Gebrhiwet and Barega completed a classy top four, while the world champion Sawe was never a threat and finished fifth in 58:29.

“Honestly, I was not aiming for the world record today but I felt strong throughout and pushed hard for most of the race,” said Kandie. “I promise to return to Valencia and regain the world record anyway. I'll next focus on my build-up for the Valencia Marathon on 3 December.”

Spain's Carlos Mayo erased Fabian Roncero's 22-year-old national record thanks to a 59:39 time that placed him 13th, while Portugal's Samuel Barata smashed the 26-year-old Portuguese record with 59:40 in 14th. Italy's Pietro Riva also dipped under the one hour barrier for the first time with 59:41.

Chelimo proves strongest

The women's contest kicked off at an even 3:06/km pace with six athletes at the helm: Kenya's Chelimo, Cheptai and Chepngetich, plus Ethiopia’s Gotytom Gebreslase and Tigist Gezahagn, and Germany's Melat Kejeta.

Margaret Chelimo celebrates her 2023 Valencia Half Marathon win

Margaret Chelimo celebrates her 2023 Valencia Half Marathon win (© Organisers)

They reached 5km in 15:29 and 10km in 31:01 to build a sizeable margin over Britain's Samantha Harrison, who was in seventh place in 31:38. Chelimo, fresh from a silver medal over the distance at the World Road Running Championships, ran closest to the pacemakers, and the first casualty from the leading group was Kejeta, who began to fade 11km into the race.

The pace of an estimated 1:05 final time proved too much for the Ethiopian duo and they both lost ground at around 14km. A Kenyan sweep of the top three places looked on the cards and the leaders clocked 46:19 at the 15km checkpoint, some 15 seconds clear of Gezahagn. She was then 11 seconds ahead of the world marathon silver medallist Gebreslase.

Chepngetich, a 1:06:42 performer, could not maintain Chelimo and Cheptai's cadence at the 19th kilometre and the race became a two-athlete fight. The leaders went through 20km in 1:01:30 and Chepngetich followed in 1:01:45.

Over the closing kilometre, the experienced Chelimo increased her speed and easily broke away from Cheptai to cross the finish line in a lifetime best of 1:04:46 - moving her to equal ninth on the world all-time list. She won by seven seconds ahead of Cheptai, who also achieved a PB performance, while Chepngetich completed the top three in 1:05:15.

Gebreslase was fourth in 1:06:12 and Gezahagn fifth in 1:06:20. The Spanish record also fell in the women’s race, with Laura Luengo running 1:09:41 to place 11th.

Portugal's 1988 Olympic marathon champion Rosa Mota improved her own world W65 masters record of 1:26:16 set at the World Road Running Championships in Riga, running 1:26:13 in Valencia.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

Leading results

1 Margaret Chelimo (KEN) 1:04:46
2 Irine Cheptai (KEN) 1:04:53
3 Janet Chepngetich (KEN) 1:05:15
4 Gotytom Gebreslase (ETH) 1:06:12
5 Tigist Gezahagn (ETH) 1:06:20
6 Melat Kejeta (GER) 1:06:25
7 Samantha Harrison (GBR) 1:07:10
8 Nigsti Haftu (ETH) 1:08:42
9 Carolina Wikstrom (SWE) 1:09:39
10 Lauren Hagans (USA) 1:09:41

1 Kibiwott Kandie (KEN) 57:40
2 Yomif Kejelcha (ETH) 57:41
3 Hagos Gebrhiwet (ETH) 57:41
4 Selemon Barega (ETH) 57:50
5 Sabastian Sawe (KEN) 58:29
6 Hillary Chepkwony (KEN) 58:53
7 Mathew Kimeli (KEN) 59:00
8 Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli (KEN) 59:06
9 Hillary Kipkoech (KEN) 59:22
10 Weldon Langat (KEN) 59:22

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