Kenya’s Bernard Kipkorir Ngeno and Tanzania’s Failuna Abdi Matanga reigned supreme at the Safi International Half Marathon on Sunday smashing the course records with respective winning times of 1:01:06 and 1:10:50.
On a day of glorious sunshine on the Moroccan coast, when thousands of runners, young and old, took to the streets of the port city, it was Ngeno and Matanga who coped best with the undulating course.
Ngeno entered the race as favourite for the men’s title, coming off a 59:22 clocking in Valencia last year and victory at the Bomet Half Marathon in Kenya last weekend. “I knew I would win, I’m in good shape,” the 22-year-old said moments after crossing the line in Safi.
He coasted through the opening half as the elites left the rugged coastline behind them and ran uphill through the city, the Kenyan allowing compatriot Edwin Koech and Ethiopia’s Gizachew Hailu Negasa to take turns at the front.
However, when Ngeno reached the 15km mark with just Hailu and Koech for company, he made his decisive move. “Nobody was pushing the pace so I went off on my own,” he said. “I said if someone wants to come with me, let’s go. When I saw nobody could follow that’s when I knew I could win.”
Ngeno powered clear of his rivals on the rolling hills, which were reminiscent of those he trains on in Kenya. “I was used to it,” he said. “I’m good at downhills – no one can catch me on downhills.”
He was given a generous reception by the throngs of locals lining the road as he powered up the home straight, crossing the line a delighted champion in 1:01:06, which carved almost two minutes off the course record of 1:03:01 set by Getaneh Molla last year. Ngeno came home 27 seconds clear of Gizachew Hailu Negasa. Edwin Koech rounded out the podium in third with 1:01:41, with local hero Othmane El Goumri of Morocco just missing out, finishing fourth in 1:01:50.
“It was a nice race, a good atmosphere, and next year I will be back,” said Ngeno, who took home 30,000 Moroccan Dirham (EUR 2770/ USD 3141) for the victory. “Next year I will come and reach another level.”
In the women’s race, Failuna Abdi Matanga played her cards a little later to snatch victory, the Tanzanian applying pressure and finally breaking her rivals with just one kilometre to run.
Matanga ran with Ethiopian rivals Asnakesh Awoke Mengesha and Hiwot Ayalew for the majority of the race, but a long, gradual uphill in the final kilometres proved the pivotal point in the race. “I was running together with the others and trying to control my pace, then I made my move at 18 kilometres,” said Matanga, who has a best of 1:09:36.
The 26-year-old soon made it a decisive advantage on the downhill run towards the finishing straight, and sprinted to the line amid rapturous applause to take victory in 1:10:50 and smash the course record of 1:13:27, which was held by Meseret Belete Tola.
It proved the perfect tune-up ahead of her next challenge. “I will run the Hamburg Marathon in April,” said Matanga, who believes she can go much quicker at the half marathon. “I liked this race, the organisation was good, the course was good, and I would have liked to run 67 minutes today,” she said. “I think on another day I can run 67.”
Mengesha held on to take second in 1:10:57, an impressive showing in what was her half marathon debut, with Ayalew, a two-time Olympian in the 3000m steeplechase, proving her versatility by rounding out the podium in third with 1:11:01.
1 Bernard Kipkorir Ngeno (KEN) 1:01:06
2 Gizachew Hailu Negasa (ETH) 1:01:33
3 Edwin Koech (KEN) 1:01:41
4 Othmane El Goumri (MAR) 1:01:50
5 Mustapha El Aziz (MAR) 1:01:56
6 Faraja Lazaro Damasi (TAN) 1:02:20
7 Ashenafi Moges Weldegiorgis (ETH) 1:03:21
8 Jaouad El Jazouli (MAR) 1:03:24
9 Paul Kibet (KEN) 1:04:09
10 Abderrahmane El Moujib (MAR) 1:04:14
1 Failuna Abdi Matanga (TAN) 1:10:50
2 Asnakesh Awoke Mengesha (ETH) 1:10:57
3 Hiwot Ayalew (ETH) 1:11:01
4 Sanae Achahbar (MAR) 1:12:29
5 Salome Jepkosgei Kipruto (KEN) 1:13:15
6 Gladys Chepkurui (KEN) 1:13:31
7 Rkia El Moukim (MAR) 1:13:37
8 Neheng Melida Khatala (LES) 1:16:09
9 Shuba Aman (BRN) 1:16:33
10 Wafa El Gazouir (MAR) 1:21:08
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