Kenyan distance runner Bedan Karoki on his way to victory (© Andrew McClanahan / organisers)
Kenya’s world and Olympic 10,000m finalist Bedan Karoki made a great debut over the half marathon distance, winning the EDP Half Marathon of Lisbon in 59:58 on Sunday (16).
During the first five kilometres of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race, Karoki was in some discomfort due to slight cramps in his legs and he lagged behind the leading group, paced by ‘rabbit’ Alex Koria.
He eventually got to the front at 10km, where he joined his compatriots Silas Kipruto and Ezekiel Chebii, the fastest man in the field with a best of 59:05, and Eritrea’s two-time world cross-country medallist Teklemariam Medhin.
Mehdin briefly took the lead but the Kenyan trio overtook him in the final quarter of the race before having their own private battle for the medals.
Chebii lost contact with his comptariots in the 14th kilometre and although Kipruto stayed with Karoki until just after 18km, the latter proved too strong for him over the final three kilometres.
Kipruto finbished second in 1:00:17, while Chebii was third with 1:00:50 and Medhin finished a distant fourth in 1:01:17.
“This wasn’t the debut race I dreamed about,” said Karoki, who will switch his attention back to the track this summer and then contest another half marathon later in the year. "I had problems with my legs the first few kilometres and it was hard to reach the front of the race.
"The course is great, totally flat, I’m sure the world record can be broken again here (Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese set the current standard of 58:23 when winning here in 2010). I’m glad of winning but I expected more."
However, it’s clear Karoki is now a force to be reckoned with on the roads after also making his debut over 10km in San Jose three weeks ago and winning the World’s Best 10K there in 28:55.
On an unseasonably hot day in the Portuguese capital, with temperatures rising to 22 degrees Celsius, many of the elite field struggled to cope with the conditions and, despite some small changes to the course in the last 12 months which were designed to make it flatter and faster, the winning time has only been slower once in the past decade.
Kenya’s world 10,000m bronze medallist Paul Tanui eventually finished seventh while Ethiopia’s 2011 world cross-country champion Imane Merga was even further back in 12th place.
The only Ethiopian runner in the women’s field proved to be the best of the lot as Werknesh Degefa held off Kenya’s Jemima Jelagat to win by two seconds in 1:08:46, 18 seconds adrift of the course record set by her compatriot Aberu Kebede in 2011.
Jelagat and her compatriot Flomena Chepchirchir forced the pace from the halfway point to 15km, with Degefa and Kenya’s Eunice Kirwa just behind them, but the Ethiopian kicked hard at 20km and only Jelagat could stay with her change of gear.
Chepchirchir finished third in 1:08:51 with Kirwa two seconds further back. The leading European was Italy’s world marathon silver medallist Valeria Straneo in sixth place with 1:09:47.
Antonio Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF