GDYNIA, POLAND, October 17—A brutally fast opener at the World Half-Marathon Championships proved the key to what many are calling the greatest women’s 13.1-miler ever, as Peres Jepchirchir broke her own women’s-only World Record by 18 seconds in winning gold in this seaside city.
But for a breeze, the weather was nearly perfect, with temperatures in the mid-40s (8C). The course wasn’t designed for recordbreaking as the challenging 5K loop featured a number of sharp turns (one a 180) and a profile that was anything but flat and fast.
The 27-year-old Kenyan owed much to teammate Joyciline Jepkosgei, who didn’t hesitate to take the lead at the start, pushing hard enough to separate a mostly East African pack from the rest of the field within the first minute.
By 5K in a stunning 15:20, Jepkosgei led a pack of 13 as Turkey’s Yasemin Can ran alongside. Not surprisingly, all the Ethiopians and Kenyans (5 each) ran in the breakaway group, along with Israel’s Lonah Salpeter and Germany’s Melat Kejeta.
Just after 7K, Jepchirchir made her first appearance in the lead, sparking the pace as the pack thinned down to 9.
Near the end of each loop, the runners had to negotiate a steep downhill to the seaside, followed immediately by a 90-degree left turn. The second time around, that was where Ethiopia’s defending champion Netsanet Gudeta’s legs appeared to give out and she fell hard. She lost 20m immediately and wasn’t a factor again.
At 10K in 30:47 (a 15:27 second 5K), Can narrowly led as the pack had been reduced to 7, with 3 Ethiopians and 2 Kenyans, a difference that would be crucial in the team scoring, based on the sum of each nation’s top 3 times. Kejeta hung on to the back, clearly running out of her head, as she had beaten her 10K best by more than a minute.
The Kenyan plan—to simply burn out the rest of the field—became even more clear as Jepchirchir surged again near 13K. Soon, though, she would move aside and gesture for Yeshaneh Ababel to move alongside. Whether that was based on a desire to have the Ethiopian share the workload was unclear; it might have been irritation at the clipping and bumping that could occasionally be observed in the tight pack.
The pace slowed slightly on the third loop, with former WR holder Jepkosgei running alongside her teammate through a 15:37 circuit to pass 15K in 46:24. The gap from the pack of 7 to the chasers was now more than 40 seconds.
Shortly after the bell was rung signaling the final lap, Jepchirchir stumbled, having been clipped by Ababel, who set the mixed-race WR of 64:31 at the RAK Half in February. Then the Ethiopian and teammate Yehualew Yalemzerf moved to the lead but were quickly overtaken by Jepkosgei.
With about 4K remaining came the moment that changed everything. Running in the tight pack alongside a curb, Jepkosgei, then behind Ababel, clipped her foot and the two went down hard. That left Yalemzerf in the lead alongside the surprised Kejeta, with Jepchirchir in 3rd after hurdling the two fallen contenders.
In shock, the three in front sneaked looks backward and accelerated. The medalists had been determined by fate; their order would be determined by their kicks.
A more unlikely grouping could not be imagined. Jepchirchir had set her WR of 65:34 just 6 weeks ago and had won the World title in ’16. Yalemzerf had won the African crown last year and ran her best of 66:01 a year ago. Kejeta, a 28-year-old who had moved to Germany in ’13, seemed completely over her head, with a PR of 68:41 dating back to ’18. In short, one of these was not like the others.
The trio passed 20K in 62:04, a 15:40 loop. They negotiated the downhill and the turn onto the seaside road to stage their final battle with the waves crashing on the shore just a few meters away.
Yalemzerf first led on the straightaway, then was challenged by Kejeta. With 200 to go, Jepchirchir launched an impressive sprint to take command. She flew through the final turn onto the board and carpet surface that covered the beach sand, crossing the line in 65:16.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said of her $30,000 victory. “My goal was to win this race. I did not expect that I would beat the World Record, but I realized that it could happen when we passed 20K. It was a little bit windy, but the course was good for me.”
Yalemzerf stumbled when the footing changed, allowing the surprising Kejeta to gain the advantage of momentum (and an additional $5000) in passing her for silver as they clocked 65:18 and 65:19, both joining Jepchirchir in dipping under the old women-only record.
The next two finishers, Zeineba Yimer (65:39) and Ababel (65:41) clinched the repeat team win for the Ethiopians. Jepkosgei finished 6th in 65:48.
Ethiopia’s 3:16:39 handily topped Kenya’s 3:18:10, with surprising Germany—keyed by Kejeta’s breakthrough race—grabbing 3rd with 3:28:42.
WORLD HALF-MARATHON WOMEN’S RESULTS
Individuals: 1. Peres Jepchirchir (Ken) 65:16 women’s only WR (old w-o WR 65:34 Jepchirir ’20);
2. Melat Kejeta (Ger) 65:18 NR; 3. Yalemzerf Yehualaw (Eth) 65:19 PR; 4. Zeineba Yimer (Eth) 65:39 PR; 5. Yeshaneh Ababel (Eth) 65:41; 6. Joyciline Jepkosgei (Ken) 65:58; 7. Yasemin Can (Tur) 66:20 NR; 8. Netsanet Gudeta (Eth) 66:46; 9. Brillian Kipkoech (Ken) 66:56 PR; 10. Rosemary Wanjiru (Ken) 1:07:10;
11. Dorcas Kimeli (Ken) 1:07:55; 12. Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (Isr) 1:08:31; 13. Fabienne Schlumpf (Swi) 1:08:38 NR; 14. Juliet Chekwel (Uga) 1:08:44 NR; 15. Meseret Gola (Eth) 1:09:02 PR; 16. Glenrose Xaba (SA) 1:09:26 PR; 17. Doreen Chemutai (Uga) 1:10:18 PR; 18. Charlotta Fougberg (Swe) 1:10:19 PR; 19. Ursula Sanchez (Mex) 1:10:19 PR; 20. Andrea Soraya Limon (Mex) 1:10:20 PR;
21. Daniela Torres (Mex) 1:10:22 PR; 22. Florencia Borelli (Arg) 1:10:30 PR; 23. Yevheniya Prokofyeva (Ukr) 1:10:32 PR; 24. Brenda Flores (Mex) 1:10:36 PR; 25. Sofiya Yaremchuk (Ukr) 1:10:42; 26. Laura Hottenrott (Ger) 1:10:49 PR; 27. Fortunate Chidzivo (Zim) 1:10:50 PR; 28. Izabela Paszkiewicz (Pol) 1:10:52 PR; 29. Katarzyna Jankowska (Pol) 1:11:02 PR; 30. Doreen Chesang (Uga) 1:11:04 PR;
31. Susan Jeptoo (Fra) 1:11:06; 32. Angelika Mach (Pol) 1:11:07 PR; 33. Marta Galimany (Spa) 1:11:08 PR; 34. Moira Stewartová (CzR) 1:11:08 PR; 35. Bojana Bjeljac (Cro) 1:11:12 PR; 36. Giovanna Epis (Ita) 1:11:14 PR; 37. Carolina Wikström (Swe) 1:11:31 PR; 38. Nina Lauwaert (Bel) 1:11:33 PR; 39. Sara Moreira (Por) 1:11:39; 40. Valeria Straneo (Ita) 1:11:39;
41. Samira Mezeghrane (Fra) 1:11:40 PR; 42. AnnMarie McGlynn (Ire) 1:11:40 PR; 43. Hanna Lindholm (Swe) 1:11:47 PR; 44. Andrea Bonilla (Ecu) 1:11:48 PR; 45. Daiana Ocampo (Arg) 1:11:50 PR; 46. Francine Niyomukunzi (Bur) 1:11:50 PR; 47. Samantha Harrison (GB) 1:11:53; 48. Angie Orjuela (Col) 1:12:07 PR; 49. Christy Yiu Kit Ching (HK) 1:12:10 PR; 50. Tereza Hrochová (CzR) 1:12:13 PR;
51. Aleksandra Lisowska (Pol) 1:12:16 PR; 52. Esma Aydemir (Tur) 1:12:22; 53. Maor Tiyouri (Isr) 1:12:27 PR; 54. Rabea Schöneborn (Ger) 1:12:35; 55. Deborah Schöneborn (Ger) 1:12:39; 56. Elena Loyo (Spa) 1:12:44; 57. Rachael Chebet (Uga) 1:12:50 PR; 58. Melody Julien (Fra) 1:12:51 PR; 59. Fatma Demir (Tur) 1:12:57 PR; 60. Olha Skrypak (Ukr) 1:12:58;
61. Laura Mendez (Spa) 1:12:58 PR; 62. Maria Chiara Cascavilla (Ita) 1:13:01 PR; 63. Jekaterina Patjuk (Est) 1:13:08 PR; 64. Becky Briggs (GB) 1:13:08; 65. Clara Evans (GB) 1:13:11; 66. Vendula Frintová (CzR) 1:13:16 PR; 67. Lilia Fisikovici (Mol) 1:13:32; 68. Federica Sugamiele (Ita) 1:13:38; 69. Roxana Bîrcă (Rom) 1:13:45 PR; 70. Monika Bytautienė (Lit) 1:13:50 PR;
71. Liliana Maria Dragomir (Rom) 1:14:02 PR; 72. Marcela Cristina Gómez (Arg) 1:14:18 PR; 73. Marcela Joglová (CzR) 1:14:30; 74. Beverly Ramos (PR) 1:14:39; 75. Thalia Charalambous (Cyp) 1:14:40 PR; 76. Andreia Hessel (Bra) 1:14:41 PR; 77. Karen Ehrenreich (Den) 1:14:45 PR; 78. Katherine Ruth Tisalema (Ecu) 1:14:59; 79. Loreta Kančytė (Lit) 1:15:15 PR; 80. Elisa Stefani (Ita) 1:15:16;
81. Rosalba Chacha (Ecu) 1:15:27; 82. Jessica Augusto (Por) 1:15:29; 83. Elena Panaet (Rom) 1:15:33 PR; 84. Fanny Pruvost (Fra) 1:15:34; 85. Tetyana Vernyhor (Ukr) 1:16:22; 86. Victoria Schenk (Aut) 1:16:36; 87. Fabienne Königstein (Ger) 1:17:03; 88. Tatyana Neroznak (Kaz) 1:17:07 PR; 89. Andrea Kolbeinsdóttir (Ice) 1:17:52 PR; 90. Tania Chavez Moser (Bol) 1:17:53 PR;
91. Lina Kiriliuk (Lit) 1:18:31 PR; 92. Stella Christoforou (Cyp) 1:18:42; 93. Lisa Marie Bezzina (Mlt) 1:18:43; 94. Valdilene Silva (Bra) 1:18:58; 95. Adelina Paulina Baltoi (Rom) 1:19:02; 96. Vut Tsz Ying (HK) 1:19:08 PR; 97. Joelle Cortis (Mlt) 1:19:28 PR; 98. Idelma Lizeth Delgado (ElS) 1:21:01 PR; 99. Andrijana Pop Arsova (Mac) 1:22:18 NR; 100. Lorena Sosa (Uru) 1:22:38 PR; 101. Elín Edda Sigurðardóttir (Ice) 1:24:20;
… dnf—Annemari Kiekara (Fin), Adriana Nelson (Rom), Hiruni Wijayaratne (SrL). (104 started, 101 finished; no U.S. entries)
(best-ever mark-for-place: 5–7, 9–14)
Teams: 1. Ethiopia 3:16:39; 2. Kenya 3:18:10; 3. Germany 3:28:42; 4. Uganda 3:30:06; 5. Mexico 3:31:01; 6. Turkey 3:31:39; 7. Poland 3:33:01; 8. Sweden 3:33:37; 9. Ukraine 3:34:12; 10. France 3:35:37; 11. Italy 3:35:54; 12. Czech Republic 3:36:37; 13. Argentina 3:36:38; 14. Spain 3:36:50; 15. Great Britain 3:38:12; 16. Ecuador 3:42:14; 17. Romania 3:43:20; 18. Lithuania 3:47:36.