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Focus on top three men and possible revenge over Olympic Champion

Ras Al Khaimah, January 13th 2009

With the athletics year lying ahead, focus now falls on early season road races, after an astonishing 2008 where world records fell in so many events. For three contrasting athletes however, 2009 promises to be a decisive year in which they are each capable of changing their status significantly.

For Deriba Merga of Ethiopia, the ups and downs and resulting frustrations of the last year and a half are surely due to end in 2009. In late 2007 he had placed fourth in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in the fastest non-rostrum position ever (59:16), but improved to 2:06:50 over the full 42.2km in Fukuoka six weeks later. Then in 2008, in the Olympic Marathon in Beijing, he had been the last to succumb to the aggressive running of eventual winner Samuel Wanjiru, only latterly to be passed for the bronze medal just 200m from the finish inside the Bird's Nest. The resulting hunger was all too evident when he won the Delhi Half Marathon last November 9th, equaling Haile Gebrselassie's global best for the year (59:15) in the process.

Just half an hour after his Delhi victory, this diminutive former singer he still has "a wonderful voice" according to his manager - asked for work to start on finding an event where he could attack Wanjiru's world record. A more restrained approach at the 3rd RAK Half Marathon on February 20th, might allow for a degree of revenge, as Merga will attack Wanjiru's world record of 58:33 set at Den Haag in March 2007 and en route, perhaps threaten the vulnerable world bests for 15km and 20km.

With 33 men in history now having broken the still elusive one hour mark for the half marathon, only Kenya's Patrick Makau the reigning RAK Half Marathon champion has managed it with re al consistency. Six times under what was, till recently, a much respected barrier, entitles the two-time World Half Marathon silver medalist to dream of great things. Surprisingly perhaps, he has yet to run a full marathon, resisting all approaches, though he paced the London event in 2007. What he achieves at the RAK event in six weeks time, could shape much of his thinking in this regard.

With a "go for broke" racing philosophy very similar to that of Merga, anything is possible this year on a course that has been made faster still by the organisers. That is the only similarity however between these two, for while Merga worked on his parents' farm in Ethiopia's Shambu province and developed his ear for music, Makau has a background of relative poverty, one that gives him a burning desire to go ever faster.

Finally, although - like Makau - fellow Kenyan Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich has yet to run a marathon, that is where the similarity stops. He has just one sub-60 minute clocking to his name, dramatically improving in Delhi last November, by taking nearly two minutes off his best. He was a late starter to the running game, encouraged to begin serious training only at age 22 by running friends, and is self-coached. More commonly known simply as Kipsang, he says the astonishing result in India, where he improved from 61:03 to 59:16 for second place, was simply down to focusing properly for the first time. He will need to recall that particular skill and more, if he is to best Merga and Makau in RAK next month.

2009 RAK Half Marathon's sub 60 minute entrants, with best times :

Deriba Merga (ETH)   59:15
Patrick Makau (KEN)   58:55
Paul Kosgei (KEN)   59:07
Wilson Kiprotich Kipsang (KEN)  59:16
Francis Kibiwott (KEN)   59:26
Wilson Chebet (KEN)   59:33
Tilahun Regassa (ETH)   59:34
John Kiprotich (KEN)   59:44
Charles Mu nyeki (KEN)   59:44
Joseph Maregu (KEN)   59:45
Mekubo Moguso (KEN)   59:48
Dickson Marwa (KEN)   59:52
Daniel Gitau (KEN)    59:58

The RAK Half Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label status race and is presented by Saqr Port. Supported by TNT, Saucony, Isostar, The Cove Rotana, Al Ain Mineral Water and Dunkin' Donuts. For registration information and to know more about the race itself visit www.rakmarathon.org. Registration closes on January 25, 2009. The RAK Half Marathon, February 20th 2009 is the world's richest half marathon.


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