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CATCH US, IF YOU CAN: For seven successive years, Kenyans run show at top marathon races

ATHLETICS By IAAF | December 29th 2015
Kenyan athletes compete during the women's marathon at the 15th IAAF Championships in Beijing (L-R) Helah Kiprop of Kenya runs with her compatriots Jemima Jelagat Sumgong and Visiline Jepkesho during the women's marathon at the 15th IAAF Championships in Beijing, China August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

For the eighth time in the past 10 years, the world list was topped by the winning performance from the Berlin Marathon. And for the seventh year in a row, the top performer is from Kenya.

The most remarkable thing this year probably was that the world record was not improved by the Berlin winner, as it had been in 2011, 2013 and 2014.

But it might simply be that the winner, Eliud Kipchoge, is more of a racer than a record-chaser. He also won the most competitive marathon of the year – London – in a time marginally slower than his 2:04:00 Berlin performance after being involved in an intense fight for the win with former world record-holder Wilson Kipsang, who finished five seconds behind.

Kipsang and current record-holder Dennis Kimetto, who finished third in London, were selected for the World Championships in late August and Kenya certainly expected success from the top two of all time. But despite a slow start to the race, both dropped out prematurely, blaming the humid conditions.

In recent years, top races such as New York and Chicago have stopped using pacemakers, which have made their race patterns noticeably more cautious. A good illustration was provided by New York winner Stanley Biwott whose first three 10km splits of 31:32-31:44 were followed by a fourth of 29:09.

Men’s half marathon

While Kenya and Ethiopia respectively own about 60% and 30% of the top marathon performances in 2015, the Kenyan bias in the half marathon is even stronger at about 80%.

It could soon challenge the steeplechase as their national event.

The half marathon is one of the most dynamic events of this century so far. During the first six years of the new millennium there was, on average, one runner per year dipping under the one-hour barrier. Since then it has exploded and in the past two years the number of sub-60 runners has reached the 30s.

Despite this revolutionary rise in overall standards, Zersenay Tadese’s 58:23 world record has remained intact since 2010. But that may soon change if world half-marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor focuses on the 13.1-mile event.

The 23-year-old Kenyan did not contest a half marathon this year. Instead, compatriot Abraham Cheroben ended the year as world leader following his winning performance in Valencia, just as he had done in 2014.

Women’s marathon

Just three days into 2015, Mare Dibaba started her season with a world-leading 2:19:52 in Xiamen, equalling her 2012 personal best from Dubai. The 26-year-old Ethiopian, who finished 22nd at the London 2012 Olympics, then finished a close second in Boston in April before capping her season with a win at her first World Championships in Beijing, clocking 2:27:35.

Dibaba was almost perfect in her three races of the season. Her world lead lasted almost nine months before Kenya’s Gladys Cherono won the Berlin Marathon in a PB of 2:19:25 to end the year as the world leader.

Cherono had not contested a full marathon before this year, but her victory in Berlin followed a 2:20:03 second-place finish in Dubai earlier in 2015.

Fellow Kenyan Helah Kiprop, whose PB is just 2:24:03, was a surprise silver medallist in Beijing in 2:27:36. The 30-year-old challenged Dibaba for the win in the final straight, just falling short of the victory.

Women’s half marathon

The women’s half marathon season started with a blast in February. Mary Keitany, the 2009 world champion over this distance, ran a world-leading 1:06:02 to win in Ras Al Khaimah. Just two days later, Florence Kiplagat repeated her feat from 12 months prior when winning in Barcelona with a world record.


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