Sabastian Sawe wins the half marathon in Riga (© Adam Nurkiewicz)
If there was any lingering doubt about who rules the half marathon world, Kenya firmly dispelled it at the World Athletics Road Running Championships Riga 23 on Sunday (1), claiming a 1-2-3 in the men’s race to add to their podium sweep in the women’s event.
Sabastian Kimaru Sawe led them home, the 28-year-old utilising a powerful kick down the home straight to take gold in 59:10 ahead of compatriots Daniel Simiu Ebenyo (59:14) and Samwel Nyamai Mailu (59:19). Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer Mekonnen was edged off the podium into fourth (59:22), having made a bold bid to win gold, with France’s Jimmy Gressier fifth in 59:46.
It was just the second time in 25 editions that a nation swept the men’s world half marathon podium, the last one occurring in 1997 when Kenya’s Moses Tanui, Paul Yego and Charles Tangus went 1-2-3. It meant Kenya claimed the team title for the 17th time, with a cumulative time for their top three of 2:57:43, well clear of Ethiopia (2:59:54). South Africa, led by Thabang Mosiako in sixth, took bronze in 3:01:17.
In a race of impressive depth, 97 competitors toed the line on a cool, sunny day in the Latvian capital without any one man looking a clear favourite. Whether it was the open nature of the race or the breezy conditions on the course, the opening 5km proved a cagey affair, with Kenya’s Benard Kibet leading the field to a controlled split of 14:31. As Sawe later put it: “slow”.
Things began to heat up in the second 5km, covered in 14:04, with Sawe hitting 10km at the front of a pack of 15 athletes in 28:35. Things remained much the same after a 14:02 split brought them to 15km in 42:37, the leading pack then down to 13, with all the leading contenders in the mix.
Ebenyo was the first to lose patience and launch an attack, surging ahead shortly after 16km, with Yimer Mekonnen the only one man to go with him. But that was short-lived, with Ebenyo pouring on the pace as he raced through Riga’s old town. He extended the lead to 50 metres at one point, covering the fourth 5km section in a vicious 13:33.
As he raced back towards the finish alongside the river, passing 20km in 56:10, Ebenyo had a four-second lead, but by then he was starting to pay for his efforts, as was Yimer Mekonnen, who faded to fourth.
Sawe was in hot pursuit of his teammate as they rounded the final turn into the home straight, and it was a few hundred metres from the finish when he drew alongside him. As he did, Ebenyo smiled and then motioned at his teammate in what looked like a request for him to ease down, perhaps so the Kenyan trio could cross the line together, though Sawe had eyes only for gold, offering his teammate a quick salute before kicking clear.
What had Ebenyo actually said to his teammate while being passed? “I told him, ‘don’t worry, go!’”
Sawe felt that despite the deficit he had to overcome, gold was always within reach. “I always have confidence in the last kilometre,” he said. “After approaching him, I saw he wasn’t pushing much and I had enough strength and after that, I never stopped.”
Ebenyo was content with his silver, saying: “We pushed each other to a good result.”
He had worried, when the wheels started to fall off in the closing kilometres, if he’d win a medal of any colour. “At around 18km I just said, ‘let me get to the finish,’” he explained. “I’m happy with the silver. My career is coming along slowly.”
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics
|MEN'S HALF MARATHON MEDALLISTS
|Sabastian Sawe 🇰🇪 KEN
|Daniel Simiu Ebenyo 🇰🇪 KEN
|Samwel Nyamai Mailu 🇰🇪 KEN