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Posted: January 26, 2009  :

Athletics: Records Possible - Great Racing Guaranteed at Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Half Marathon

Women's field strengthened & Men's improved further at RAK 2009

Ras Al Khaimah January 27th, 2009

With just over 3 weeks till race day, the organisers of the 3rd Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Half Marathon can confirm their women's line-up, with significant additions to strengthen an already mouth-watering start list.

Headed by two Kenyans, veteran Edith Masai (67:45) and 2008 world No.1 Philes Ongori (67:57), the RAK field can now boast two-time Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu (ETH) along with reigning RAK champion Salina Kosgei (KEN). Abebu Gelan (ETH), sixth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships last October, also joins the list, as well as 2004 Olympic marathon fourth placer, Elfenesh Alemu (ETH) who has run 69:46.

These changes bring the number of "sub 70" minute starters at RAK to thirteen, making any prediction of just who will rise from the pack to take a lion's - or should that be lioness's - share of the $400,000 plus prize purse, virtually impossible.

On paper, Masai is the fastest and will undoubtedly give a good account of herself, despite being the oldest in the field at 41. But the smart money would be on one of her younger east African competitors, particularly those with recent good form.

Ongori at 23, falls into this category, having won the Kenyan Army Half Marathon Championships on 17th January, in 70:23 - the key factor, being that the race was held in Nairobi, at nearly 5,500 ft (1660m) altitude. Able to boast world class track credentials, although Kenyan, Ongori has rarely ventured on to the roads outside of Japan in her senior career (her world best last year of 67:57 was in Marugame), but the warm, still, sea-level conditions of RAK are likely to suit her.

Likewise, relative unknown Aselefech Mergia (ETH), who's win at the Delhi Half Marathon last November 9th came shortly after her silver medal at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Rio (12th October), will be keen to take another step in to the big time; her current best from Delhi stands at 68:17, almost six minutes quicker than her 74:13 fastest going in to Rio, some improvement in just four weeks!

A European name to watch is that of Anika Kalovics (HUN). The prolific racer is currently sharpening her competitive instincts with a series of short cross country races on the European circuit, but as a 68:58 half marathon racer, it would be foolish to write off the 31 year old's chances, in spite of the massed African talent due in RAK.

In addition, former Commonwealth 10,000m Champion (Manchester, 2002) and 2004 Paris Marathon winner Salina Kosgei will put up a formidable challenge. Like Ongori, she has track pedigree, displaying a range of ability from 2:03 for 800m to 2:23 for the Marathon, but for a distance in between these, her best "legal" half marathon of 69:57, is clearly due for revision.

And what of Derartu Tulu? Already a sporting legend, having in 1992 become the first African female to win Olympic gold in that titanic struggle with, fittingly, South Africa's Elana Meyer, she went on to regain the title in Sydney eight years later, in between garnering three IAAF World Cross Country titles, and then in 2001, the World 10,000m title. Now 36, if this mentor for an entire generation of young African distance runners has paid attention to the practices and philosophy of one Haile Gebrselassie, she may well surprise some on February 20th at RAK.

On the men's side, 36 year old Hendrick Ramaala (RSA) has thrown his hat in to the ring. Perhaps the first of the Half Marathon specialists, somewhat bizarrely bearing in mind his ability, he has never broken the hour barrier on a non-downhill course. RAK might be his next opportunity, but in a field of such quality, a quick time is no guarantee of a high placing.

Race Director Nathan Clayton can confirm too, that Ethiopia's Deriba Merga, despite his Houston Marathon win of 2:07:52 on January 18th - just under five weeks before RAK's 20th February date - will stick to his commitment to line up for the half marathon in the UAE's northernmost Emirate. The Olympic marathon fourth placer's typically aggressive approach to racing, and his Houston run, will raise the tantalising prospect of a reverse Marathon-Half Marathon double that would be virtually unique in the modern era.

The RAK Half Marathon can claim the following:

13 sub- 60 minute men and 13 sub-70 minute women will line up on Friday February 20th.

A men's world record in the inaugural staging in February 2007 (Samuel Wanjiru, 58:53).

The world's richest prize list for a half marathon - over US $400,000.

IAAF Silver Label status.

Elite Women Elite Men
Edith Masai (KEN) 67:16 Deriba Merga (ETH) 59:15
Philes Ongori (KEN) 67:57 Patrick Makau (KEN) 58:55
Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 68:17 Paul Kosgei (KEN) 59:07
Derartu Tulu (ETH) 68:26 Wilson Kiprotich Kipsang (KEN) 59:16
Julia Mombi Muraga (KEN) 68:31 Francis Kibiwott (KEN) 59:26
Lidia Cheromei (KEN) 68:35 Wilson Chebet (KEN) 59:33
Anika Kalovics (HUN) 68:58 Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 59:34
Lucy Kabuu (KEN) 69:45 John Kiprotich (KEN) 59:44
Teyiba Erkesso (ETH) 69:45 Charles Munyeki (KEN) 59:44
Elfenesh Alemu (ETH) 69:46 Joseph Maregu (KEN) 59:45
Pauline Wangui (KEN) 69:49 Mekubo Moguso (KEN) 59:48
Salina Kosgei (KEN) 69:57 Dickson Marwa (TAN) 59:52
Magdalene Mukunzi (KEN) 69:58 Daniel Gitau (KEN) 59:58
Abebu Gelan (ETH) 70:10Hendrick Ramaala (RSA) 60:01
Ashu Kasim (ETH) 70:19  

The RAK Half Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label status race and is presented by Saqr Port and supported by TNT, Saucony, Isostar, Al Ain Mineral Water and The Cove Rotana. To know more about the race visit The RAK Half Marathon, February 20th 2009 is the world's richest half marathon.

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