Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh Upsets Brigid Kosgei and Smashes Half Marathon World Record at 2020 RAK Half Marathon

February 21, 2020

As expected, the women’s world record fell today at the RAK Half Marathon.

What was unexpected was that the new world record does not belong to marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya. Kosgei ran faster than the old world record of 64:51 by running 64:49, but that wasn’t enough to win the race as Ababel Yeshaneh, the 2019 Chicago Marathon runner-up — she finished 6:47 behind Kosgei’s world record in that race — turned the tables on Kosgei and won in a world record of 64:31.

The pacemaker didn’t get out of the way for the photo

In the men’s race, Kibiwott Kandie, who defeated three-time World Half Marathon champ Geoffrey Kamworor last week at the Kenyan cross country championships after a bizarre finish, lowered his pb from 59:31 to 58:58 to grab the win on a somewhat warm day (66 degrees and sunny at the start, 59% humidity).

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Top 20 Results

Women’s race

This was billed as a world record attempt, with the male pacer Geoffrey Pyego — who paced Kosgei’s marathon WR in Chicago — tasked with running 64:25 pace. He wound up going out much faster than that, however, as he hit 5k in a blazing 15:05 (63:32 pace). Amazingly, there were still nine women with him at that point, including Kosgei and Yeshaneh.

Kandie after the win

That wouldn’t last long. Though the leaders’ pace slowed slightly for the second 5k (15:12), Kosgei and Yeshaneh were the only ones who could hang with it and they were by themselves at 10 kilometers (30:17). Yeshaneh accelerated as she went for her drink just past the 10k mark, briefly gapping Kosgei — the first hint of the latter’s mortality in over a year. Though Kosgei would eventually close up the gap, it was clear that Yeshaneh was in it to win it.

The two women remained inseparable at 15k (45:39), though Kosgei, clearly grimacing, looked close to breaking. Just over a mile later, it happened; Yeshaneh pulled away, and for the first time in 17 months, Kosgei was beaten. Yeshaneh would keep slowing from 15k to 20k (15:30; each of her 5k splits was slower than the one that preceded it as she went 15:07-15:11-15:23-15:30), but that was irrelevant; the pace had been so fast early that she still easily broke the world record of 64:51 set by Joyciline Jepkosgei in Valencia in 2017. Kosgei’s time was the second-fastest ever on a record-eligible course (Kosgei ran 64:28 at the point-to-point Great North Run last year) but only good for second in a super deep race that saw three women break 66:00 and eight break 67:00. 

Men’s race

Kandie worked hard for this one

The men’s pacers were also tasked with hitting a quick pace — 13:50 per 5k segment, which is 58:18 for the full marathon — but it quickly became apparent no one would sniff that time as no one was interested in following the lead pacer, who gapped the field early. He wound up hitting 5k in 14:03, with the rest of the field around five second back in 14:08.

There was still a large pack at 10k (28:07), and the racing didn’t begin in earnest until the 40-minute mark, when Kenya’s Alexander Munyao — coming off a big 59:09 PB just one month ago at the Santa Pola Half Marathon in Spain — surged to the front and opened up a 15-meter gap. He led by five seconds at 15k, but Kandie had not given up, and gradually began to reel him in. With just under two miles to go, Kandie caught and passed Munyao, and though Munyao would keep it close for another half mile, he ultimately could not hang, Kandie pulling way for a dominant win in 58:58 to Munyao’s 59:16. Ethiopia’s Mule Wasihun, who ran 2:03:16 for 3rd at last year’s London Marathon, was 3rd again today in 59:47, with two more men — Kenyans Alfred Barkach (59:49) and Vincent Raimoi (59:51) — also dipping under 60:00.

Five guys under 60 is good for most races, but not RAK — particularly in the era of the Vaporflys — as last year a record 11 men broke 60:00. One of those men breaking 60:00 last year was Switzerland’s Julien Wanders, who set a European record of 59:13 in placing 4th. Wanders, 23, led today’s race at 10k but ended up 11th in 60:46.

Quick Take: Who is Ababel Yeshaneh?

Yeshaneh was totally spent after getting the WR.

Though Yeshaneh was second in the Chicago Marathon last fall, she was overshadowed in that race by Kosgei’s WR and entered today’s race far from a household name. She departs it as a world record holder and unquestionably one of the top distance runners on the planet. Post race, she said, “I didn’t imagine this result. I am a world record holder!”

So what’s her story? Well Yeshaneh, 28, has actually been world-class for quite some time as she ran 30:35 for 10,000 on the track in 2013 and took 9th at the World Championships that year. She didn’t do much in 2014 or 2015, but came back strong in the 2016 to run 14:41 for 5,000 and finish 14th in the Olympic final at that distance (three spots behind Shelby Houlihan).

Since the Olympics, she’s shifted her focus to the roads. She ran a 67:21 half in 2017 and set an Ethiopian record of 65:46 in Copenhagen in September 2018 (it was broken five months later). Race announcer Geoff Wightman called her a half marathon specialist on the broadcast today, but for that last year plus she’s been focused on the marathon.

In December 2018, she ran 2:20:16 to win $100,000 at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Marathon but that course was found to be a little less than 200 meters short. In 2019, she made her World Marathon Major debut with a 6th-place 2:24:02 in Tokyo before her 2:20:51 pb in Chicago.

One more thing worth noting: according to her World Athletics profile, Yeshaneh, like Kosgei, is represented by Federico Rosa — the Italian agent who has represented several high-profile drug cheats, including Jemima Sumgong, Asbel Kiprop, and Rita Jeptoo.

Quick Take: Kosgei’s hot streak is (kind of) over

Brigid Kosgei’s win streak may be over — she had won 11 straight races from October 2018 until now — but it’s hard to say that she’s not still on a roll. 64:49 is still ridiculously fast for a half marathon, and puts her in good position to defend her London Marathon title in just over two months’ time.

Quick Take: The year of the women’s half marathon continues

Earlier this month, we wrote about the spate of half marathon national records that have gone down already in 2020: on the women’s side, Japan, South Korea, Namibia, and Canada (twice) have all seen NRs. The Nike Vaporflys — which both Yeshaneh and Kosgei were wearing today — have certainly helped in that respect. You can add a few more countries to the list now as in addition to the world record, the national records for Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania (Magdalena Crispin Shauri, 66:37) fell today at RAK.

And we’re not even two months into the year.

All-time best times for place were set for 8 of the top 10 women’s finishers — everyone but the fourth and fifth placers, who set the 2nd best times for place. Top 20 Results.

Quick Take: And it wasn’t even a great day for running fast

With race temps of 66F at the start, it wasn’t bad, but far from perfect (though minimal wind helped). Last year, the race was held earlier in the year (February 8) and the weather was cooler, just 54 at the finish.

Quick Take: Kamworor fans can breathe a little easier

We’re still not sure exactly what happened last week at the Kenyan XC champs (more on that here). But even if Kandie beat Geoffrey Kamworor straight up, Kamworor and his fans can now feel a little bit better about the loss after seeing Kandie win today. There’s nothing to hang your head about when you lose to a guy in 58-minute half marathon shape.

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