By Wim van Hemert with David Monti
THE HAGUE (14-Mar) -- Being the fastest man ever in the marathon or the women's world marathon champion offers no guarantee to win a half-marathon. Haile Gebrselassie and Catherine Ndereba learned that on a rainy and windy Saturday afternoon here, both defeated in the 35th Fortis City-Pier-City Half-Marathon.
Gebrselassie had come to The Netherlands to recapture the world half-marathon record he lost to Olympic Marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru. The Kenyan captured the world record two years ago at Ras Al Khaimah, and bettered it six weeks later in The Hague to 58:33. On the same fast course here Gebrselassie wanted to crack that time. Not only did the Ethiopian not reach his goal, but he was handed a rare defeat. In the final meters on the Lange Voorhout, Gebrselassie was outsprinted by rising Kenyan star Sammy Kitwara, the World's Best 10-K champion nearly two weeks ago, who clocked a personal best 59:47. Gebrselassie finished one second behind him.
"This is not my type of weather but I lost to a very good athlete," said Gebrselassie a two-time Olympic gold medalist. "I made the mistake to start my final sprint too early."
From the beginning of the race it was clear that there was no chance of breaking Wanjiru's world record. A group of eight passed the first 5 km marker in 14:12 which was already 32 seconds slower than the split of Wanjiru's race. In the leading group Irishman Martin Fagan was doing most of the work. He brought Gebrselassie, Kitwara, the Ethiopians Dereje Tesfaye and Getu Feleke, and the Kenyans Gilbert Okari and Gilbert Chepkwony through the 10 km point in 28:34. That was 67 seconds slower than Wanjiru's pace two years ago.
Between 10 and 15 kilometers Kitwara, Gebrselassie and Tesfaye took control of the race. The taller Kitwara looked comfortable, just like Gebrselassie, while Tesfaye was struggling. The three passed 15 km in 42:41. Tesfaye lost contact and the two leaders hit 20 km in 56:47. It became clear that a final sprint would bring the decision.
Around 400 meters before the finish line Gebrselassie made his move. He put a few meters on Kitwara, but was overtaken by the Kenyan who ran his first sub-60 minute half marathon. It was the seventh victory in a row for the Kenyan.
"I did beat a great champion," said a delighted Kitwara.
The next nine finishers all set personal bests, including Fagan, who finished fifth in a new Irish record 1:00:57.
In the women's race Pauline Wangui and Catherine Ndereba were much too fast for the other women and, at least today, Wangui was too fast for Ndereba. The pair ran together through 15 km, then Wangui broke away to win handily in 1:10:50 to Ndereba's 1:11:35. It was her second victory of the week; she also won the 20 km of Alphen aan den Rijn last Sunday.
"I was happy to be back in The Hague after winning here eight years ago," said Ndereba who, like Gebrselassie, thought the conditions were too cold.
Wangui simply said: "I'm happy with my victory."
The race also served as the Dutch half-marathon championships and Patrick Stitzinger (1:02:43) and Ilse Pol (1:14:40) won the titles.