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Lel One-Ups Gharib, Goucher Falls Apart Late In 68:30 Victory

Wanjiru Badly Beaten, Goucher Struggles Home

March 22, 2009

With Olympic Marathon Champion Sammy Wanjiru unexpectedly out of the picture, Martin Lel did what we all expected and surged to the Lisbon Half Marathon win in the final meters.

Emerging from a pack of four men's runners that included World Marathon Majors Champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Lel and Moroccan Jaouad Gharib sprinted to the line with no more than 500m left. Gharib took the lead, hoping he could win in a prolonged kick, but Lel was immediately stuck to his side and back. Heading into a 90-degree turn with about 150m to go, Lel beat Gharib to the inside track and raised his speed considerably, powering home for one of his trademark road wins.

Lel's time, approximately 59:54, was well off Wanjiru's world record of 58:33 set in 2007, but may have reflected what looked to be relatively humid and warm conditions on the course.

Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru was well-beaten, dropping from the lead pack relatively early in the race. We believe Emmanuel Mutai was the other Kenyan in the lead pack of 4 that was together for almost the entire race before the final kilometers separated the leaders.

Women's Race: Goucher Dominates ... Until The Final 5k

American Kara Goucher was alone for much of the day, well, except for three male pacemakers surrounding her almost the entire way. Goucher was almost exactly on pace for an American record in the half marathon through 15k (~48:20, shooting for Deena Kastor's 67:34), but she began to show signs of distress in the final kilometers. Goucher's pace slowed considerably, especially in the final 1,000m, as her grimace became more pronounced. She finished in ~68:29.

Coming into the race, Goucher sported the 9th-best half marathon personal best of all time. Her 66:57 from 2007, set on a net downhill course in Great Britain, established her as the race's clear favorite. However, it did not look like a fun day out on the course for Goucher, who along with coach Alberto Salazar had remarked on her fantastic fitness heading into the race, even hinting at a possible world record attempt on Lisbon's IAAF-certified course (Lornah Kiplagat's 66:25 stood as the mark to best).

The wheels came off, so to speak, for Goucher in the final kilometers (we think her last 1,000m may have been 4:10). In fact, though it appeared she had the race easily won from the early stages, Goucher was fortunate to win the race as Kenyan Alice Timilili came into the picture just in the final moments. Had the race been just another 400m, Goucher may have finished lower down in the standings.

Wanjiru's 2009 Struggles Continue

Samuel Wanjiru faded badly at the distance where he holds the world record, finishing a stunning 7th. Wanjiru failed to break 61 minutes for the second time this year in a half marathon, though in his other attempt in Spain, he was victorious. But after dropping out of another race this year in Africa, Wanjiru has shown serious flaws at shorter distances.

As we mentioned in our preview, Wanjiru ran a ton of races last year. Two marathons, three half marathons, one 20k, 4 road 10ks and 5 other track races, including three 10,000s! By the way, he ran two 3,000s on the track, one in 7:56 and the other in 8:02, truly mundane times for the half marathon and marathon world beater. In 2009, it could be the case that the young Japan-based Kenyan phenom is simply tired.

Or, there could be another reason for Wanjiru's half marathon struggles. This week Running Times came out with a Ryan Hall interview that we loved. Hall is very focused on his Boston Marathon and doesn't race that much. Part of his reasoning is that he feels like when he is in great marathon shape, he's sacrificing fitness at the 10km and even the half marathon. We'll see if Wanjiru - after struggling at shorter distances - is in great marathon shape in just a few weeks when he will again line up against Lisbon winner Martin Lel at the Flora London Marathon. Somehow, we don't think Wanjiru will have it in London.


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