(15-Feb) -- In what could have been the best-ever dual meet between Kenyan and Ethiopian teams in a half-marathon, athletes smoked the flat desert course in Ras Al Khaimah at the 7th RAK Half-Marathon in the United Arab Emirates producing sensational results. The top-3 men --Kenyans Geoffrey Kipsang, Stanley Biwott and Geoffrey Mutai-- all broke 59 minutes, the first time that has ever happened in a single race. The top-4 women all broke 67 minutes, including winner Lucy Kabuu of Kenya whose 1:06:09 was the #2 time in history.
"Based on top 10 average, RAK half-marathon is the fastest half marathon in the world," proclaimed independent statistician Ken Nakamura in an e-mail message. "The top-10 average (life-to-date) is 59:04.36."
Helped by cool temperatures (13C/55F), both races went out fast. The women hit 5 kilometers in 15:35, while the men ran a slightly more conservative 14:02. By 10-K, there were seven women left in contention (31:18), and 11 men (28:12). Those intermediate marks would win most elite road races at those distances.
In the latter stages, the women's race would come down to four: Kenyans Kabuu, Priscah Jeptoo, and Rita Jeptoo along with Ethiopia's IAAF World Half-Marathon Champion Meseret Hailu. Kabuu managed to open a small gap by 17-K, and hit the 20-K mark in 62:49, only 13 seconds slower than Mary Keitany's world record at that distance. She was able to hold off her challengers to the finish.
The men's contest came down to a three-way drag race between Kipsang, the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior winner, and fast marathoners Biwott and Mutai. Kipsang ran the fourth 5-K segment in 13:58, hit 20-K in 58:54, and was able to hold the two-second lead he had at that point all the way to the finish, clocking 58:54. Biwott was timed in 58:56, Mutai 58:58, and Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa well back in fourth in a still very fast 59:25.
The top-10 finish spots in both races were taken by Kenyans and Ethiopians. Had 4-athlete cross country scoring been used, the Kenyan men's and women's teams would have both scored a scant 11 points, just one over a perfect 10, and would have won the team competition easily.
1 Geoffrey Kipsang (KEN) 58:54
2 Stanley Biwott (KEN) 58:56
3 Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 58:58
4 Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) 59:25
5 Stephen Kibet (KEN) 59:59
1 Lucy Kabuu (KEN) 1:06:09
2 Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 1:06:11
3 Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 1:06:27
4 Meseret Hailu (ETH) 1:06:56
5 Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 1:07:13
PHOTOS: Geoffrey Kipsang and Lucy Kabuu win the 2013 RAK Half (photos by Victor Sailer, courtesy of RAK Half-Marathon; used with permission)