RAS AL KHAIMAH // Winner of the men’s titles at the Dubai and Boston marathons in 2013, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa upstaged a strong Kenyan contingent on Friday to add the RAK Half Marathon to his list of conquests.
In a blistering sprint to the finish, eight men completed the 21.1-kilometre course inside 60 minutes – a record for a half marathon – with the 24-year-old Desisa taking the tape in 59 minutes, 34 seconds.
Eritrea’s Nguse Amlosom, whose previous personal best was a 60:46, was a surprise second in 59:38, while Kenyan Wilson Kiprop arrived six seconds later to complete the podium.
The two Kenyan pre-race favourites, Bernard Koech and Bernard Kipyego, who had personal bests in the event of 59:15 and 59:10, respectively, finished fourth and fifth, a second apart, with Koech clocking 59:45.
Micah Kogo (59:47), Feyisa Lilesa (59:50) and Paul Lonyangata (59:53) also completed the race in less than an hour.
There were no surprises among the women though as Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo took gold in 1:07:00, finishing 1:11 minutes ahead of compatriot Flomena Cheyech. Ethiopia’s Guteni Shone was third in 1:08:31.
“The race started a bit slow because there was no pace, with nobody really pressing,” said Desisa, who was making his RAK Half Marathon debut. “But I wanted to run 59 and I managed to do that, so I am happy.
“I have a major marathon coming up in April,” he added, referring to the Boston Marathon, “so I wanted to check my condition. This win should boost my confidence for Boston. I have been training well and if I can keep my condition, I believe I should have good results at the marathons this season. That is very important.”
The Ethiopian, who won the marathon silver at the World Championships in Moscow last year, has also set his sights on getting gold in Beijing next year and challenging Wilson Kipsang’s world marathon record of 2:03:23. Desisa’s personal best is the 2:04:45 he clocked in Dubai last year.
“Next year, we have the World Championships in China,” he said. “In 2013, I finished second in Moscow, so this time I will be running for gold because I have worked on the mistakes I made last year. I am also looking to run 2:03 and get the world record.”
Amlosom, who finished 61st at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, has no such lofty ambitions but he was “thrilled” to upstage some of the sport’s best and improve his personal best by 68 seconds.
“It was a fight, fight, fight for me, very strong competition and I managed to finish on the podium, so I am very happy,” he said.
The race started with more than 2,300 runners from 93 nations, 30 per cent of them women, queuing up on a chilly morning, with the temperature at 11°C. Jeptoo, however, was more bothered about the wind than the cold.
“It was a bit windy … not like last year,” said the 29-year-old silver-medallist from 2012 London Olympics marathon. “Last year I was second, so it is really great to win this time, especially given the weather conditions.
“If there was no wind, I could have probably done a better time, but this is not bad either. I was trying to test my body for the upcoming marathons and I can see that my body is in a good condition.”
Ethiopia had other winners on the morning as well, with Emebet Belew (1:13:57) topping the women’s section of UAE residents, finishing ahead of Finland’s Anne-Mari Hyrylainen (1:17:07) and compatriot Belainesh Yami (1:17:11).
Morocco had a one-two in the UAE residents male category with Ihya Ben Yousef (1:05:41) and Lhaj Aabdelkarim Mmoussaoui (1:06:38) finishing ahead of Ethiopia’s Yassin Ebba (1:09:46).
Bader Al Alawi (1:11:21) took the honours among Emirati men, finishing ahead of Mubarak Al Marashda (1:11:26) and Abdelaziz Yaqoub (1:15:12), while Rasha Al Mutawa (2:06:03) was the best among UAE women, followed by Rand Salem (2:35:37) and Adara Dark (3:24:20).
Germany’s Johannes Schroth (1:30:56) finished at the top in the junior male category, while Katharine Rush (1:57:47) of Great Britain took the honours among the junior ladies. Great Britain’s Ted O’Connell (1:25:12) and Elizabeth Driver (1:35:09) were tops in the veteran’s male and female categories, respectively.
In the masters category, Norway’s Abdeslam Naji (1:14:08) and Beate Krecklow (1:24:18) of Germany were the best among the men and women, respectively. Mrocoon (1:06:29) won the Team Relay Challenge ahead of CICPA (1:07:04), while the RAK Academy 6 team finished top in the Inter-School Relay Team Challenge.