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Geoffrey Mutai aiming to regain title as super fields gather


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Geoffrey Mutai aiming to regain title as super fields gather for RAK Half

As for each of the previous six editions, this year’s RAK Half Marathon on the northern shores of the UAE on Friday 15th February, promises fast times and fierce contests in both men’s and women’s races.

Five times with a sub-60 minute male winner, only strong winds last year slowed times, but resumption of normal service is expected with the exceptional fields making the winners’ names harder than ever to predict. The still standing women’s world record was set here in 2011 by Mary Keitany (65:50), while the men’s course record is 58:52 by Patrick Makau in 2009.

Whoever does top the men’s rostrum, from a field of ten sub-60 minute runners, joins an exalted list of road racing legends; Sammy Wanjiru (2007), Patrick Makau (2008-09), Geoffrey Mutai (2010), Deriba Merga (2011) and Dennis Koech (2012).

The 2010 winner Geoffrey Mutai returns knowing his victory in 59:43 helped to project him to his current status as the world’s most successful marathon racer of the last three years. Indeed, few could have guessed that when the late Sammy Wanjiru in 2007 won the inaugural event in this quiet port city less than fifty miles from Dubai, his 59:53 clocking would become just one of 19 sub-one hour performances in the first six years of the event.

Amongst those attracted by that promise of training fulfilment this year, is the exciting Stephen Kibet of Kenya, last year world ranked number two with 58:54. Others to consider however, with over a dozen Kenyans featuring on the elite list, include Ezekiel Chebii, the winner in Lille last September (59:05) and Pius Maio Kirop, Berlin winner last April (59:25). Amongst the Ethiopians, Feyisa Lelisa, winner at Houston in 2012 (59:22), has already retained that title this year, and Getu Feleke, fourth here twelve months ago and subsequently second in the Rotterdam Marathon in 2:04:50, will likely go better.

That astonishing world record of 65:50 by Kenya’s Mary Keitany in the 2011 race, confirmed that the RAK organisers can all but guarantee perfect conditions when much of Europe and North America is still mired in winter weather. As a result, the women’s field is also loaded with Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey, after a relatively quiet 2011-2012, and now a mother, bullish about her chances of showing similar form to that which saw her win here three years ago in 67:07.

The fastest woman on paper is Florence Kiplagat (66:38), who can boast great 10,000m speed (second fastest in the world in 2012 with 30:24) as well as a marathon runner’s strength – she won Berlin in 2011 in 2:19:44. Against her is 2012 Olympic marathon silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo, who remarkably, has never broken 70 minutes; a lopping of several minutes is long overdue. The half marathon is also the ideal distance for their compatriot Lucy Wangui Kabuu, another member of the sub-2:20 marathon club, who has a similar range of world class times. Kabuu is apparently in fine form and one to watch having won all three of the half marathons she’s ever contested, including both the Great North Run and the Delhi Half Marathon in 2011. Ominously perhaps, Kabuu is of a remarkably similar build to Keitany – long and light but very strong. For the Ethiopians, former track start Meselech Melkamu will be making her debut in RAK, but her win in the Frankfurt Marathon last October (2:21:01), also her debut, suggests something spectacular is possible.

Like Mutai who plans to run London, many of those competing in RAK have spring marathon ambitions but the date is far enough ahead of the big 42km gatherings to warrant a full-out effort rather than a measured preparation race and with the half marathon specialists thrown in to the mix, it is little wonder that the organisers had to turn away many good athletes.

The total prize and bonus monies offered of over $250,000 don’t do any harm of course, but the RAK half has never been easy and worthy champions are two of the few certainties.

Past RAK winners:
2007 Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) 58:53 (WR) Birhan Adere (ETH) 1:10:58
2008 Patrick Makau (KEN) 59:35 Salina Kosgei (KEN) 1:12:29
2009 Patrick Makau (KEN) 58:52 Dire Tune (ETH) 1:07:18
2010 Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 59:43 Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) 1:07:07 (NR)
2011 Deriba Merga (ETH) 59:25 Mary Keitany (KEN) 1:05:50 (WR)
2012 Dennis Koech (KEN) 1:00:40 Mary Keitany (KEN) 1:06:42
Elite for the 2013 RAK Half Marathon:
Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 59:30 Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 1:06:38
Stephen Kibet (KEN) 58:54 Lucy Wangui Kabuu (KEN) 1:07:04
Ezekiel Chebii (KEN) 59:05 Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) 1:07:07
Feyisa Lelisa (ETH) 59:22 Paskalia Kipkoech (KEN) 1:07:17
Pius Maio Kirop (KEN) 59:25 Flomena Chepchir (KEN) 1:08:06
Geoffrey Kipsang (KEN) 59:26 Diana Chepkemoi (KEN) 1:08:08
Joel Kimurer (KEN) 59:36 Feyse Tadese Boru (ETH) 1:08:44
Stanley Biwott (KEN) 59:44 Meseret Hailu (ETH) 1:08:55
Daniel Chebii (KEN) 59:49 Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 1:09:48
Getu Feleke (ETH) 59:56 Ashu Kasim (ETH) 1:10:05
Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 60:03 Sharon Cherop (KEN) 1:10:21
Micah Kogo (KEN) 60:17 Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 1:10:26
Edwin Kipyego (KEN) 60:55 Meselech Melkamu (ETH) 1:10:25
Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 61:19
Tsegaye Mekonnen (ETH) 63:59
Yusuke Hasegawa (JPN) Debut
Paul Maina Ngari (KEN) Debut

ENDS

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