The men’s title at the World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia went to Uganda today - but it was 19-year-old Jacob Kiplimo rather than the three-time 2020 world-record breaker Joshua Cheptegei who took gold, after Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir had beaten her own women-only world record to win a dramatic women’s race.
Kiplimo, who finished fastest after a slow start to the men’s race, set a Championship record of 58min 49sec, beating the 2007 mark of 58:59 run by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese; he also became the first Ugandan to win a medal in this event.
His elder compatriot, making his first appearance over this distance, had to be content with fourth place in 59:21, with silver going to Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie in 58:54 and third place to Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn in 59:08.
Cheptegei thus failed to become only the second man in the modern era to win global titles on the track, road and cross country, a distinction earned by Khalid Skah, the Moroccan who won this title in 1994 and in so doing became the last man to win the World Half on his debut at the distance.
Even for this redoubtable performer, it seems, earning a world road title in his debut at the half-marathon distance just 10 days after setting the world 10,000 metres record In Valencia proved too great an ask.
It was a surprise to set alongside the recent London Marathon defeat of Eliud Kipchoge; but not on quite the same scale.
“I couldn’t give more than that," Chetegei said.
"I have been training more for 5000m and 10,000m.
"I discovered I still had some fatigue in the legs.
"But I’m very happy – running a sub-60 is really special."
A slow first half to the men’s contest appeared to be playing into the hands of the 24-year-old who in the course of the last nine months has set world records on the road - over 5 kilometres - and on the track over 5,000 and 10,000m.
A race favouring fast finishers clearly suited Cheptegei - but it also worked for his younger compatriot, who clocked a Ugandan record of 7:26.64 for 3,000 metres in Rome, the fastest time seen in 13 years, and set a 5,000m personal best of 12:48.63 in Ostrava.
Kiplimo’s last race against Cheptegei had come at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships, where he shared the lead for much of the way before finishing second.
After the field in this Polish city had jogged through 5km in 14:19, and 10km in the marginally better time of 28:23, the pace finally warmed up in the third of the four laps, with Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie pushing on to take the field through 15km in 42:17, with Cheptegei still in touch, but drifting back, as Kiplimo stayed more in touch, and then moved ahead.
With 10 minutes of running remaining Kiplimo was pushing on, looking relaxed, ahead of Kandie, and his elder compatriot - but the gaps were stretching as the youngster looked over his shoulder before accelerating and soon Cheptegei was dropping back out of the medals.
Jepchirchir, winner in Cardiff four years ago, had earlier regained her title as she took 18 seconds off the women-only race world record she set six weeks ago, finishing in 1 hour 5min 16sec at the end of a race shaped by a dramatic late fall.
After the leading group of seven runners had entered the fourth and final lap of the sharply-cornered course Jepchirchir was hanging slightly back as her compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei led the pace despite looking as if she was tiring.
Shortly after 54 minutes Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh, who ran a mixed-race world record of 1:04:31sec at the Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon in February, made a move, but as she hit the front she also collided with Jepkosgei, running on her left by the paving, and both hit the deck.
Once the dust had settled and evading action taken, just three runners were left in the running for individual medals - Jepchirchir, Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw and Germany’s Melat Yisak Kejeta - and it was the Kenyan who produced the final irresistible sprint over the final 100 metres of the finishing straight along the boulevard by the Baltic Sea before sinking to her knees in triumph.
Even the run-in had drama, as Yehualaw stumbled 20m from the line on the boarding laid down on the concrete over the final stretch, allowing Kejeta - Ethiopian-born, who came to Germany in 2013 - to come through for silver and a European record of 1:05.18, with Yehualaw finishing a second behind her.
All three medallists thus finished inside the world-record mark Jepchirchir set in Prague in September.
Kejeta was the first European to earn a medal at this event since Lornah Kiplagat, the Kenyan-born athlete representing The Netherlands, won in 2008.
The race had involved an earlier dramatic fall, around the nine kilometres mark, as Ethiopia’s defending champion, Netsanet Gudeta, literally dropped out of contention, slipping and falling on one of the many sharp turns on the course in the downhill stretch before turning onto the boulevard.
By the time she picked herself up and begun gingerly to resume she had lost 25 metres and the leading group of seven runners appeared to be accelerating away from her.
At these Championships in Cardiff in 2016 Kenya’s defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor fell in heavy rain, but managed to regain the lead to win.
No such inspiration seemed to be available to Gudeta however.
At this point Ethiopia appeared assured of the team gold - decided by the best three results of the five taking part for each country - as they had three in the lead group, with two Kenyans, a Turkish runner and a German alongside.
At the 40-minute mark the two Kenyans, who had pushed the pace from the gun, surged again.
The field had gone through 5km in 15:20, and 10km in 30:40, which meant they were scheduled to finish in little over 65 minutes - and inside the women-only race world record of 1:05.34 held by Jepchirchir.
As the bell rang for the fourth and final circuit, Jepkosgei once again turned round to the three Ethiopians running in a line behind her, apparently objecting - not for the first time - to her heels having been clipped.
Jepchirchir, who had said on the previous day that the Kenyans would be running as a team, was hanging back a little behind the Ethiopian phalanx.
But then Yeshaneh hit the front, moving past the Kenyan who had been giving grimaces of discomfort - only for calamity to occur.
This was World Athletics’ one and only World Championship of 2020 - postponed from its original date of March 29, and obliged to cancel its mass race element on August 31.