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Posted: January 25, 2016:  

Athletics: RAK Celebrates Another All-Star Cast

The Hollywood blockbuster film franchise "Fast and Furious," will be up to its 8th installment later this year, but 2016 sees it's road running equivalent already celebrating a 10th edition on Friday February 12th.

Since its premiere in 2007, the RAK half marathon has attracted the very best distance runners in the world. The illustrious list of winners reads like a who's who of global stars, all of them using this prestigious race as a stepping stone to their own athletic Oscars.

The tone was set by the late Sammy Wanjiru, the hugely talented Kenyan who stormed to victory in the inaugural RAK race just over a year before becoming Olympic Marathon champion in Beijing.

9 years on the cast list assembled for this year, rivals the best line up's in the world. 6 of the elite men have run under 59 minutes, while 8 of the women's field have broken 68 minutes. The strength in depth augers well for Feb 12th.

Heading the men's race is Eritrian Zersensay Tadesse, reigning world record holder and the greatest half marathon runner in history. His eye watering time of 58.23 may have come 6 years ago, but the 59.24 he ran in New Delhi in November is a return to form which could see him on the podium again.

Bernard Koech is the third fastest athlete of all time on paper, although his 2013 time of 58.41 was recorded on a slightly downhill course in San Diego. A modest 2.09 in Fukuoka in December may be a more up to date indication of form, but he does have prior knowledge of this course, having finished 4th back in 2014 with a sub 60 minute run.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges will come from 23-year-old Abraham Cheroben, who ran 58.48 in 2014 and was the fastest athlete in the world last year with 59.10. The fact that he also lowered his 10km PB to 27.35 last autumn may mean there is plenty of speed in his legs come the business end of the race if it comes down to a sprint like last year.

Ethiopian Birhanu Legese may not be among the fastest 6 on paper here, but he ran brilliantly to win a high quality half in new Delhi last autumn and if the pace is anywhere around that winning time of 59.20, he has proved that he can produce a devastating turn of pace in the last 100m.

Watch out also for the excellent Kenyan marathon runner Stanley Biwott. Second at RAK in 2013 behind Geoffrey Kamworor, he went on to beat the reigning world half and world cross country champion in the New York Marathon last autumn in 2.10.34

Biwott has gone sub 59 minutes, boasts 7 major wins over the half including Paris and Philadelphia and only just lost out to Mo Farah at the Great North Run last September. One to watch for sure.

World record holder Tadesse isn't the only Eritrian with one eye on a podium finish here in RAK. Nguse Amsolom was 2nd here in 2014, (59.39) narrowly missed a medal at the world half champs in Copenhagen and last year won the half in Lisbon.

22-year-old Kenyan Edwin Kiptoo has improved considerably since his 4th place in RAK in 2014, lowering his personal best from 61.13 in October 2014 to 59.26 by the end of last year with 4th place in New Delhi.

Throw into the mix former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang, the 2 fastest 10km runners in history in Leonard Komon and Micah Kogo and there is plenty of intrigue throughout the leading dozen men in their elite race.

The standard in the women's race has been truly exceptional here at RAK, with every winning time since 2009 ranked among each year's top 3 fastest times in the world.

This 10th edition promises more of the same. 3 women have broken 67 minutes including the fastest in the field Priscah Jeptoo.

The World and Olympic marathon silver medalist is as consistent over the half as she is the full distance, with top 3 finishes in all 10 of her major half marathon races including victory at the Great North Run in 2013 (in 65.45,) and here at RAK in 2014 (67.02.) Her slightly disappointing 6th place finish in the New York Marathon last October will have made her even more determined to return to the podium places here.

But reigning World Half Marathon Champion Gladys Cherono will be hoping 2016 continues her rich vein of form. Last year she ran a 2.20 marathon in Dubai at the start of the year, followed that up with a very impressive 66.38 half in Istanbul in April and then topped it all off by winning September's Berlin Marathon with 2.19.25, the 8th fastest time in history. If she's had a good winter, the 32 year old should be full of confidence.

Joyce Chepkirui is a rangey athlete who has excelled on the track and the roads. She became Commonwealth Champion over 10,000m in 2014 and won the Amsterdam Marathon last autumn with a solid 2.24. Her half marathon PB of 66.19 means if she's feeling good she cannot be ruled out of a podium finish.

Cynthia Limo will be a familiar face and name to the RAK crowds after finishing 3rd in 2015 with a punchy 67.02. She rounded off the year winning a high quality New Delhi half in 68.35, an impressive time considering the first 5 km was run at a pedestrian pace. Is this her year to step out from the shadow of some of her better known compatriots?

In terms of emerging East African talent, watch out for 22 year old Gladys Chesir. Apart from producing the fastest 10km of 2015 with 30.41, she finished 3rd in New Delhi in 68.36 after that slow first 5km.

Ethiopia brings some experienced women hoping to challenge the Kenyan dominance. Worknesh Debele won the Prague Half Marathon last year in 67.14, Genet Yalew is a former world cross silver medalist now running sub 69's, Wude Ayalew has run 3 sub 69 minute half marathons, although her best time came 7 years ago and Aselefech Mergia, who has previously held 2 podium places in RAK (in 2009 and 2010) will be making a return.

Like all good Hollywood releases, there will be more than a few twists and unexpected turns of drama over this famous 13.1 mile race before we see the real stars emerge battle hardened and victorious in the RAK sunshine.

The lure of one of the world's premiere half marathons has produced great moments from great stars for 9 years now and this 10th edition will surely see the legacy of this event continue to run and run for many years.

Gladys Cherono (KEN) - reigning World Half Marathon Champion - photo credit Vic Sailor

BibElite MenNatPB BibElite WomenNatPB
1Zersenay TadeseERI58:23:00 52Priscah JeptooKEN65:45*
2Abraham CherobenKEN58:48:00 53Joyce ChepkiruiKEN66:19:00
3Stanley BiwottKEN58:56:00 54Gladys CheronoKEN66:38:00
4Wilson KipsangKEN58:59:00 55Cynthia LimoKEN66:41:00
5Micah KogoKEN59:07:00 56Worknesh DegefaETH67:14:00
6Bernard KoechKEN59:10:00 57Peres JepchirchirKEN67:17:00
7Leonard KomonKEN59:14:00 58Aselefech MergiaETH67:21:00
8Birhanu LegeseETH59:20:00 59Wude AyalewETH67:58:00
9Simon CheprotKEN59:20:00 60Genet YalewETH68:12:00
10Edwin Kiprop KiptooKEN59:26:00 61Rose ChelimoKEN68:22:00
11Edwin KipyegoKEN59:30:00 62Gladys ChesirKEN68:36:00
12Nguse AmlosomERI59:30:00 63Doris ChangeywoKEN68:49:00
13Martin MathathiKEN59:48:00     
14Emmanuel BettKEN60:08:00    

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