Geoffrey Kamworor after his third straight world half marathon title (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
Unlike in the women’s race, the record books were not revised by the men at the IAAF/Trinidad Alfonso World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018.
That, however, didn’t mean there was an absence of thrills and drama as Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor romped away over the final six kilometres to secure his third successive world title over the distance.
A sluggish early pace as the wind started to pick up contributed to Kamworor not finishing within an hour and having to be content with a final time of 1:00:02 – although the winner’s cheque of US$30,000 will no doubt assuage any disappointment – but what will be remembered is the way that the Kenyan threw in a 13:01 split between 15 and 20 kilometres to rip apart a classy field.
The first five kilometres were passed in a relatively leisurely 14:31 with Japan’s Kenta Murayama and Spain’s Ayad Lamdassem being the most prominent faces at the front of a huge pack of almost 70 runners.
Little changed at the sharp end over the next five kilometres and with almost all of this part of the course being run into the wind it was no surprise that the pace slowed to 29:28 at 10km with about 30 runners still together at the front.
Over the next five kilometres, the buildings around the course and the change of direction afforded the runners some protection from the elements – with rain also starting to fall – as Kamworor started to feature more prominently at the head of the race.
Jostling for position
A number of the other expected main protagonists such as Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer and Kenya’s Leonard Barsoton were also noticeably moving to the fore to cover any attacks while other highly-regarded runners like Eritrea’s Aron Kifle and Switzerland’s Julien Wanders were making sure they were able to see what was happening in front of them.
Kamworor was at the head of the pack as 15 kilometres was passed in 44:13, and it became clear that the one-hour barrier was unlikely to be breached.
For the next two kilometres Kamworor slowly wound up the pace and then it happened; just before the 17km checkpoint he threw a brutal burst of acceleration and produced a sustained surge over the next kilometre so that everyone behind him metaphorically, and probably mentally to a certain extent, wilted.
His loping but effective stride, somewhat reminiscent to those with long memories of his compatriot and five-time world cross-country champion John Ngugi, took him well clear of the field.
Behind him, Bahrain’s Abraham Cheroben – easily identifiable because of his upright stature with his chest puffed out and head slightly cocked to one side – was working hard and moving through to second place.
The Baharini runner briefly closed the gap to about 10 seconds at 19 kilometres on Kamworor, who had looked briefly as though he was blowing hard although that might not have been too much of a surprise considering his split, before the latter surged again.
Kamworor passed 20 kilometres in 57:14, 14 seconds clear of Valencia Half Marathon course record-holder Cheroben, and then pulled further away over the final kilometre.
A moment to cherish
With 200 metres to go it looked as though Kamworor would finish within 60 minutes but he then decided to enjoy his moment in the spotlight as he continued his streak of taking a world title in the sport every year since 2014.
Down the finishing straight, his beaming smile stretched broadly across his face and he started blowing kisses to the crowd. The one-hour mark just eluded Kamworor but no one was going to begrudge him his chance to celebrate what had been a tactically perfect race.
Cheroben took the silver medal in 1:00:22, Bahrain’s first individual medal in the history of the championships, as Kifle passed Yimer with 500 metres to go to take the bronze in a personal best of 1:00:31.
However, Yimer was to climb the podium and get a team gold medal hung around as his team mates Getaneh Molla and Betesfa Getahun came home immediately behind him in fifth and sixth and the Ethiopian scoring trio combined for a time of 3:02:14 to leave silver medallist Kenya 24 seconds in arrears.
Like in the women’s race, Bahrain’s men also took third place in the team competition.
Wanders, who turned just 22 on Tuesday, confirmed his emerging status by coming home as the leading European runner in 1:01:03 for eighth place.
Further down the results, it’s also worth giving what is nowadays termed a shout out to the USA’s Bernard Lagat in 31st place.
The multiple world champion on the track, both indoors and out, didn’t succeed in reducing his recent USA over-40 best of 1:02:00 but at 43 years and 102 days, he produced a memorable performance. No one older than him has ever run faster than his finishing time of 1:02:16.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF