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Fabulous racing but strong winds deny history being made

Ras Al Khaimah FEBRUARY 20TH 2009:

For the third consecutive year, a series of astoundingly fast performances from the emerging Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) have forced their way to the top of the world half marathon rankings, with a world record and world bests en route, only denied by unseasonably strong winds off the Arabian Gulf.

Packed elite fields on this pancake flat course promised great things, but ultimately a strong pre-dawn wind refused to abate and while brave running in both men's and women's races produced breathtakingly quick times, both sets of results significantly adjusting the all-time lists, the hoped-for records remained just out of reach.

  Deriba Merga had spoken bullishly on the eve of the race of attacking Samuel Wanjiru's world record mark of 58:33 (Den Haag, 17 Mar 2007), despite less than five weeks previously having won the Houston Marathon in 2:07:52. Initially he was as good as his word, passing 5km in 13:41 and 10km in 27:42 with a headwind worsening the effects of a slightly over-ambitious opening 5km. The 10km point signaled for Merga another aggressive surge and over the following three miles he began to open a slight gap on Makau. While Makau fought his way back to the Ethiopian three times, it looked all over, but that Houston run might have been the undoing for the 2008 joint fastest over 21.1km, for with a second blast of headwind between 16km and 18km, Merga began to slow. Makau, ever the instinctive race, took his chance and eased past, piling on the pressure over the last 3km to such effect that Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich, never far adrift, passed Merga as well to grab second.

Storming home in 58:52, the crowds around the finish were left wondering what might have been, had the wind eased. Kipsang was seven seconds down in 58:59 and a tired looking Merga loped home in 59:18; he probably needs a rest but says he plans to run Boston in just a few weeks time.

When thinking of the last two years in RAK, the women's race looked all too familiar early on, with a slow opening 5km of 16:12 holding a pack of fifteen athletes together. A marginal acceleration up to 10km (32:14) whittled the pack down to ten, but it was after this that they started really running. Flying through the next 5km in 15:39, an Ethiopian quartet of Dire

Tune, Aselefech Mergia and Abebu Gelan, along with last year's world leader Philes Ongori, pulled clear and the split times started to turn an ordinary looking tempo in to something very special (15km in 47:53).

A final 5km of 15:49, complete with that two kilometres in to the wind, took Dire Tune clear and she held her pace well, crossing the line in 1:07:18, a personal best by almost four minutes, the last 1,097m having taken just 3:36. Mergia took second a full 30 seconds behind, although she too was 29 seconds faster than ever before, while Ongori in third also broached new territory with 1:07:50, another personal best, this time by 7 seconds.

Five men broke the one hour barrier, while ten women broke 70 minutes further testament to the quality of the field and general organisation of the event. The athletes leave RAK well satisfied with their work, knowing too that had the wind been kinder, world records might well have been much closer, if not surpassed.

Deriba Merga missed Haile Gebrselassie's 2005 world best for 15km by just seven seconds (41:29 to 41:22) while Patrick Makau roared past 20km in 55:38, against Wanjiru's 55:31 during his world record for the half marathon. On top of this, John Kunkeler the course measurer, noted that during the race, the leading men ran further than they needed to, shunning the measured line of tangent and losing cumulatively, vital seconds. A blue line might be on order for next year.


Men's Results

1Patrick Makau (KEN)58:52 PB

2Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich (KEN)58:59 PB

3Deribe Merga (ETH)59:18

4Wilson Chebet (KEN)59:32 PB

5Matthew Koech (KEN)59:54 PB

6Joseph Maregu (KEN)1:00:02

7Charles Munyeki (KEN)1:00:11

8Tujuba Megersa (ETH)1:00:16 PB (Debut)

9Chele Dechasa (ETH)1:00:19 PB

10Abel Kirui (KEN)1:00:27


Women's Results

1Dire Tune (ETH)1:07:18 PB / NR

2Aselefech Mergia (ETH)1:07:48 PB

3Philes Ongori (KEN)1:07:50 PB

4Abebu Gelan (ETH)1:07:57 PB

5Lydia Cheromei (KEN)1:08:14 PB

6Amane Gobena (ETH)1:08:16

7Salina Kosgei (KEN)1:09:06

8Rose Kosgei (KEN)1:09:14 PB

9Teyiba Erkesso (ETH)1:09:37 PB

10Julia Mumbi Muraga (KEN)1:09:40


The RAK Half Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label status race and is presented by Saqr Port and supported by TNT, Saucony, Isostar, Al Ain Mineral Water and The Cove Rotana. To know more about the race visit www.rakmarathon.org. The RAK Half Marathon, February 20th 2009 is the world's richest half marathon.




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