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LetsRun.com's Race Of The Weekend - The Rotterdam Half Marathon

Sammy Wanjiru Versus Sammy Kitwara Does Not Tell The Whole Story

By Emory Mort of LetsRun.com
September 11, 2009

This weekend's Fortis Rotterdam Half Marathon should be a showcase for the new generation of incredible Kenyan and Ethiopian long distance road racers.

The headlines have focused on Sammy Wanjiru and Sammy Kitwara of Kenya. Both of these runners have shown ridiculous talent and audacity in their young careers. They still are yet to reach their 23rd birthday. Had they grown up in the US, they'd likely be going into their redshirt senior year on a cross country team. In reality, one is a world record holder at 58:33 (Wanjiru) and the other is arguably the best 10,000m runner from Kenya right now (Kitwara).

2009 Flora London Marathon This summer, Kitwara actually flew back to Kenya between dominating the toughest road races on the international circuit to run a 10,000m in Nairobi at the Kenyan World Championship trials. He went out and PR'd at the distance and won the race at altitude over guys that ended up medaling at worlds. Of course, Athletics Kenya was not happy with Kitwara hopping on a plane after the trials and picking up another big paycheck by winning the Peachtree Road Race, so they banned him from competing in Berlin. Sammy Kitwara put his name on the map, big time, by winning a half marathon this year in the Hague over marathon world record holding Haile Gebrselassie.

Well, he's back, and he says in the interview below that he's not afraid of Wanjiru, or anyone for that matter. Kitwara, in fact, oozes cockiness and gives you the impression he is going to do something big, like break 59 and break Wanjiru.

For Wanjiru, this is his first big race since the FLORA London Marathon where he won in another astounding performance. His 2:05:10 win was remarkable and smashed apart the best marathon field yet to be assembled in '09. The field was a little down because Martin Lel was injured, but 2:05:10 running alone for much of the end of the race is unbelievable. Of course, so is 2:06:32 at the Olympics in Beijing running in humid weather without pacemakers. Well, so is his 58:33 world record. You might be shocked to know that nobody has ever run within 20 seconds of Wanjiru's half marathon world record. In fact, nobody ran faster than 59:17 before Wanjiru ran 59:16 back in 2005. He was born for this distance.

Wanjiru, however, is more focused on the marathon these days. It's a sure thing that he wants the marathon world record (2:03:59 for Haile G). He'll go for it in Chicago in October. It wouldn't be surprising if the Japanese-based Wanjiru is not in top half marathon shape as he prepares for an attempt at the world's second-ever sub-2:04 marathon, this time in the United States.

The other entrant who really catches our eye is Ethiopian Tilahun Regassa. He's only 19. He owns a 59:36 HM PB set in 2008 when he would have barely been out of high school in the US. His Falmouth performance this year was other-worldly (video, right). He was out for a joy ride and smashed the rest of the field. This kid is just another brash young gun who seems to fear nothing and nobody. (Falmouth photos here)

Hard to believe that James Kwambai has not even entered into the conversation yet. Kwambai is the fastest Kenyan marathoner in the history of the planet. Hard to believe, but it's true. Actually, he's about 0.4 seconds slower than countryman Duncan Kibet, as he lost the Rotterdam Marathon in a sprint finish after 26.2 miles at 4:45/mile (watch the amazing highlight video here). Kwambai is "old". He's 26. Back when he was 21 he ran 60:22 for the half marathon and that remains his PB. Back then, that was a good time. These days, it's mediocre. We'll see if he has bounced back in his training. He'd like to "modernize" his PB and get closer to his all-time world rank at the marathon distance (tied for 2nd all-time behind Haile Gebrselassie).

Talking before the race, Sammy Kitwara mentions Kwambai quite a bit as he discusses his tactical thoughts. Will Kwambai push the pace? The interview to the right is very interesting as it shows what a great half-marathoner is thinking as he prepares to race the fastest endurance humans ever to roam the earth. (For more on Kitwara, see the LRC piece titled "Sammy Kitwara The Best Runner You've Never Heard Of")

Back to the youth movement. The elite field is rounded out by 23 y/o Bernard Kipyego, 22 y/o Charles Munyeki and 20 y/o John Kiprotich. All three of these guys have run under an hour for the half in the past year. Kipyego is a world cross country bronze medalist to boot. We'll see if they too can upgrade their PB's and world status with an upset win or second-place finish.


Fortis Rotterdam Half-Marathon Main Entrants:




1/2 Mar PB

Recent Result

Biggest Win




58:33 WR

2:05:10 London win

2:06:32 Oly Win '08




59:47 ('09)

Won KEN 10k Track Trials

Beat Haile G in 09 HM




59:34 ('09)

5th, WC 10,000m

World XC Bronze in '07




59:44 ('08)

60:38 HM in April '09

2nd In Udine HM in '08




60:22 ('04)

2:04:27 KEN Record, Apr '09

Rotterdam Mar 2:04:27 2nd Place




59:44 ('08)

60:11 in Feb RAK Half

5th at this race in '08




59:36 ('08)

Destroyed Falmouth field

Lille HM win in 59:36 as 18 y/o





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