The 2021 RAK Half Looks INCREDIBLE: Women’s WR Holders Brigid Kosgei & Ababel Yeshaneh To Battle, Jacob Kiplimo vs Kibiwott Kandie And Sara Hall Is Entered
By Jonathan Gault
November 25, 2020
With the 2021 editions of many spring road races postponed until the fall due to COVID-19 — the Tokyo, Boston, and London Marathons have all been moved, wiping out the traditional spring marathon season — the options for the world’s best road runners to compete during the first half of next year will be limited. But for those events that do still plan on going forward, there is an opportunity to capitalize.
One such race is the RAK Half Marathon. Already one of the strongest half marathons in the world, the 2021 edition could be the best one yet. Mark your calendars. February 19th – the date of this year’s race – is going to be one of the biggest highlights of the next six months.
“We hope to be a great step for as many athletes as possible to give a chance to have a great competition at a very high level,” says RAK elite athlete coordinator Federico Rosa. “…We really have to thank the Ras al Khaimah organization and the local government to give us a chance to put together this field and to give some hope to many athletes.”
Race organizers today announced half marathon world record holder Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia and marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya will headline the women’s field, while the men’s race will feature the gold and silver medalists from October’s World Half Marathon Championships in Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie.
Both sets of athletes have developed budding rivalries over the past two years. Though Yeshaneh and Kosgei have raced just twice, both races resulted in world records. At the 2019 Chicago Marathon, Yeshaneh finished as runner-up in 2:20:51 as Kosgei ran an unthinkable 2:14:04. Four months later, Yeshaneh gained revenge at the 2020 RAK Half, dropping Kosgei with three miles to go as both women ran under the old world record in a memorable duel. The two are slated to face off for a third time on Sunday at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon.
RAK could be especially important, because it’s possible neither athlete will have the chance to race a spring marathon in 2021.
“I don’t see any spring marathon actually happening [next] year, unless there’s any news about that,” says Rosa, who represents both Kosgei and Yeshaneh. “We have hopefully the Olympics, which for Brigid is [certain]. I don’t know about the Ethiopian situation for Olympic marathon. But there’s no really clear plan. Unfortunately ,we cannot really make any prediction on anything this side of Ras al Khaimah.”
Kiplimo and Kandie’s two career meetings have been decided by a total of six seconds, with each man winning one. Their first encounter was the most memorable, and one Kiplimo won’t soon forget: after gapping Kandie entering the home straight of the 2019 Sao Silvestre 15K in Brazil, Kandie launched a mad dash over the final meters to steal the win from right under Kiplimo’s nose.
Kiplimo gained revenge at the 2020 World Half in October, besting Kandie — and everyone else — to win his first senior global title in a huge personal best of 58:49. It was the culmination of a stellar year that also saw Kiplimo run huge personal bests over 3,000 (7:26.64, #7 all-time) and 5,000 meters (12:48.63, #12 all-time). Kandie, meanwhile, became the first person to break 59:00 in the half three times in one year, going 58:58 at RAK, 58:38 in Prague (#5 all-time), and 58:54 in Gdynia at the World Half.
The two head-to-head showdowns (the rest of the field has yet to be announced) should produce fast times, which is the norm at RAK. The men’s winner has been under 59:00 in each of the past three years, while the women’s race produced world records in 2011, 2017, and 2020.
“We have not discussed yet, but of course they will try to run fast,” Rosa says. “They ran the world record this year for the women. For the men, [the world record of 58:01] it is pretty far away from [Kiplimo and Kandie’s pbs], but there will also be other athletes competing. I think the challenge is to run the course record for both men and women.”
That would mean 64:31 (the world record) for the women and 58:42 for the men.
One more intriguing entrant has been revealed so far: American Sara Hall, who has enjoyed a career year in 2020 with a personal best in the half marathon (68:18) and a runner-up finish at the London Marathon (also in a personal best, 2:22:01). No top American has run RAK, whose elite fields usually consist of mostly Ethiopians and Kenyans. But with the pandemic continuing to shutter most major US road races, Hall will make the trip to the United Arab Emirates in search of what could be a very fast time. Hall currently ranks sixth on the all-time US half marathon list, 53 seconds back of Molly Huddle‘s 67:25 American record.
More Americans could be on the way to RAK in 2023, however, as the city is bidding for that year’s World Athletics Road Running Championships — which will consist of the rebranded World Half Marathon Championships and the newly-formed world 5k road championships
Like last month’s London Marathon, the 2021 RAK Half will feature an elite athlete bubble, with all athletes being tested prior to travel and then again upon their arrival in the UAE. A portion of the meet hotel will be blocked off for elite athletes only, where they will have to stay until race day. There will also be a mass race capped at 2,800 runners, who will run a separate course from the elites. Those runners will have their temperatures checked ahead of the race and will utilize wave starts, with runners spaced two meters apart.
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