March 26, 2016
Heading into the 2016 IAAF / Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships, the race was billed as a showdown between Kenyan rivals Cynthia Limo and Mary Wacera. And the fans in Cardiff were indeed treated to a battle royale between two Kenyans, though it was Limo and 22-year-old Peres Jepchirchir fighting it out for the gold medal in the end, with Jepchirchir taking the honors in 67:31, just three ticks ahead of Limo. Wacera settled for bronze as the Kenyans went 1-2-3-6-7, easily defending their team title (1-2-3 is automatic victory as the times of the top three finishers determined your team place).
The pace was relatively slow early on and at the 10k mark, 32:28, the race was playing out exactly as expected as the five Kenyans and two top Ethiopians (World XC bronze medallist Netsanet Gudeta and 66:26 half marathoner Genet Yalew) had broken away up front. They hammered the next 5k in 15:46 and by 10 miles, Kenyans Gladys Chesire and Pascalia Kipkoech had dropped, leaving three Kenyans and two Ethiopians up front. Just after the hour mark, Jepchirchir began to press hard dropping first Yalew and then Wacera and Gudeta. After splitting 15:53 from 15k to 20k, it was down to Jepchirchir and Limo.
Of the two, Limo was the more experienced and entered in better form, running 66:04 at last month’s RAK Half to become the third-fastest woman of all time — defeating Jepchirchir by 35 seconds in the process. So when Limo made her move just under 800 meters from the finish line and opened up a gap of a few meters, this one looked as if it was all over. But Jepchirchir held firm and never allowed the gap to widen; within 15 seconds, she had fought back to level with Limo.
When Jepchirchir finally decided to make her move, she left no doubt, opening up a gap as she rounded the final turn under 200 meters from the finish and holding it until the line as she won in 67:31. Limo had to settle for silver while Wacera added to her silver from two years ago by taking bronze in 67:54. Kenya easily won the team title with Ethiopia second and Japan third, the exact same top three as two years ago. Team USA, led by the trio of Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (11th, 70:46), Sara Hall (15th, 70:58) and Kellyn Taylor (25th, 72:42), matched its 2014 finish of 5th. Cherobon-Bawcom’s finish was the best by an American since Amy Yoder-Begley took 10th in 2009.
Quick Take #1: World, meet Peres Jepchirchir (or Peris Chepchirchir…or Peres Jechirchir)
The woman who crossed the line first in Cardiff today goes by many names (her IAAF bio lists her as Peris Chepchirchir but the IAAF recap used Peres Jepchirichir – the name that was in the results was Peres Jechirchir) but you can call her world champion. The 22-year-old’s bio lists zero track races for her career. On the roads, in 2014, she ran 31:34 for 10k and 69:12 for 13.1. Last year, in the span of seven days in September in the Czech Republic, she ran a world-leading 30:55 for 10k (which ended up being the #2 time in the world on the roads) and 67:17 for the half marathon. She then really flashed her potential by ripping off a 66:39 at the RAK Half in February. We didn’t think she would win today as two of the women who beat her at RAK were also in today’s field, but Jepchirchir, at 22, has a high upside and she showed it with today’s performance.
Last fall, after her 30:55 road 10k, we wondered if she might be a medal contender in the 10,000 if she turned her attention to the track, and after today’s win, Peres said she definitely wants to run the 10,000 in Rio.
“God willing I plan to run the 10,000 if I qualify,” said Peres to the BBC after the race.
Moving forward, we hope from now on she will race under a consistent name. It’s hard to market the Kenyans as stars if their name changes from race to race.
Quick Take #2: Kenya, once again, was utterly dominant
Though Kenya could not replicate its historic 1-2-3-4-5 sweep from two years ago, it came close, going 1-2-3-6-7 and finishing with an average top-3 time of 67:40, 1:10 better than runner-up Ethiopia. Kenya could have scored its bottom three runners, as opposed to its top three, and still won the team title today.
Quick Take #3: A good run for Team USA bouncing back from the Marathon Trials
The four women on Team USA who raced the marathon in LA last month all ran solid races today, none better than Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, who was fifth at the Trials (tops among women entered here) and wound up just outside the top 10. In our pre-race podcast, Steve Magness, who coaches Sara Hall, praised her resilience and predicted she would have no problems bouncing back from her DNF in LA. He proved prescient as she ran a strong race to take 15th overall. Going in, we thought it would be good if Team USA could match its 2014 performance of 5th and they did just that. Well done ladies.
11. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom 70:46
15. Sara Hall 70:58
25. Kellyn Taylor 72:42
28. Brianne Nelson 73:01
61. Hillary Montgomery 76:16
Talk about the race on our fan forum: MB: Official 2016 World Half Marathon Discussion Thread.