PRAGUE (31-Mar) -- Strong winds whipped through the start/finish area of today's 14th Hervis Prague Half-Marathon, but Ethiopia's Atsedu Tsegay and Kenya's Joyce Chepkirui proved that they were even stronger, easily smashing the one year-old course records here by wide margins. Tsegay, the bronze medalist from the African Cross Country Championships two weeks ago, dethroned his hero Haile Gebrselassie as the fastest Ethiopian of all time, clocking a world-leading 58:47. Chepkirui, the gold medalist from the same African Cross Country Championships, ran a career best 1:07:03.
"It was very windy and difficult today," a serious Tsegay told reporters after the race.
Tsegay, 20, had just one half-marathon under his belt before today, but gave a remarkable performance this afternoon was, not only overcoming the strong wind and chilly temperatures, but the rough surface of the IAAF-certified Prague course which has long stretches of cobblestones and steel tram tracks. Running with his green singlet untucked, he stayed tucked in the lead pack behind pacemakers Vincent Rono and Josphat Bett through 5-K (13:59) and 8-K (22:27). Running with him were last year's champion and course record holder, Philemon Limo, and his Kenyan compatriot Henry Kiplagat.
That pace proved too hot for nearly everyone, but not Tsegay. With Bett, Kiplagat and Limo still with him through 10-K (28:03), Tsegay many have gotten inspiration as he ran through a short tunnel under the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments along the Vltava River. He surged before the 13-K mark, then ripped off the next kilometer in 2:45. Kiplagat and Limo managed to stay with him and thought that Tsegay was still beatable.
"Before 15 kilometers it was still possible to win," Limo said at the post-race press conference. "But after that it was not."
Tsegay kept his foot on the gas, also running the 15th kilometer in 2:45, and going through that split alone in 41:46. Running in green adidas racing flats with no socks, he managed to stay under 2:50 per kilometer for the rest of the race, putting Kiplagat and Limo well behind him and earning €34,000 in prize money, course record and time bonuses. Kiplagat and Limo finished second and third in 1:00:01 and 1:00:03, respectively. Bett, the pacekmaker, stayed in the race to finish fourth in personal best 1:01:01.
Living in Addis Ababa and only running three years, Tsegay reminded reporters that his modest 13:51.0 5000m personal best was set in Ethiopia's thin air, and that his career was just beginning. He said that he hoped to make the Olympic team at 10,000m.
For Chepkirui, 23, today's win was not unexpected. However, beating a veteran like defending champion Lydia Cheromei must still be considered an upset. The two women were still together at 15-K, when Chepkirui decided it was time to go for the win.
"We were at 15 kilometers and I moved," said Chepkirui who earned €24,000 in prize money, course record and time bonuses. "I wanted to get the new best time."
Cheromei could not match the younger Chepkirui's move, and conceded defeat. Nonetheless, the reigning Volkswagen Prague Marathon champion and course record holder said she was not disappointed with her 1:07:26 second place finish, a career best by seven seconds.
"The race was OK," said Cheromei who had served a two-year doping suspension for taking a fertility drug, Clomid, in 2005. "It was windy. I am happy to come second. I am not crying; I am glad she beat me."
Kenyans also took the next two positions. Gladys Cherono ran 1:08:18 in third (a personal best), and Rose Chelimo clocked 1:11:35 in fourth. Ukraine's Tetyana Shmyrko took fifth in 1:12:15.
Chepkirui, who ran the fastest 10-K on the road in the world last year (30:43), looked a little surprised about her victory, but was clearly pleased.
"Today the weather was so windy," she said smiling. "I was not expecting the record. Maybe, I was expecting to run sixty-eight (minutes)."
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Today's race had a record 8252 finishers, up from 7229 last year. Over 11,000 runners had entered.
PHOTO: Joyce Chepkirui received the winner's trophy at the 2012 Hervis Prague Half-Marathon (photo by Jane Monti)
PHOTO: The top three finishers from the 2012 Hervis Prague Half-Marathon: from left, Henry Kiplagat (2nd), Atsedu Tsegay (1st) and Philemon Limo (3rd); (photo by Jane Monti)