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Kirui, Kwambai secure Kenyan double in Santa Pola

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Peter Kirui wins the Santa Pola International Half Marathon on January 22, 2017. PHOTO/IAAF

SANTA-POLA, Spain, Jan 23- Kenya’s Peter Kirui and Antonina Kwambai captured overwhelming victories at the 28th Santa Pola International Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, held on a windy Sunday in Spain.

Although both athletes kicked off their 2017 campaigns with victory, the weather conditions hampered their chances of breaking the course record.

Kirui clocked 1:00:56, just 41 seconds shy of the men’s mark, while Kwambai missed out on the women’s mark by 26 seconds. Her winning time of 1:09:49 was, however, a huge personal best.

-Kirui in a class of his own-

Kirui, who finished sixth in the 10,000m at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, had the company of James Kipsang and Daniel Muindi Muteti in the early stages and the trio went through the first five kilometres in 14:31.

It was midway through the second five -kilometre section when Kirui took full command of the race, leaving behind his compatriots with incredible ease.

Kirui covered that split in a brisk 14:07 to build a sizeable margin on his pursuers as he passed 10km in 28:38 – still on schedule to threaten the course record – while Kipsang and Muteti were 26 seconds in arrears.

Italy’s Stefano La Rosa and Morocco’s Mourad El Bannouri also covered the first 10 kilometres within 30 minutes, going through that checkpoint in 29:51 and 29:56 respectively.

Kirui maintained his solo effort throughout the second half of the race. Although he slowed slightly between 10 and 15 kilometres – covering that section in 14:27 to hit 15km in 43:05 – his still increased his lead over his rivals.

Kipsang and Muteti went through 15km in 44:14, more than a minute ahead of La Rosa in fourth.

As Kirui passed 20km in 57:28, it was clear that the course record would survive for at least another year. His lead was comfortable, though, and he crossed the line in 1:00:56.

Muteti finally managed to break free from Kipsang with just two kilometres remaining. His time of 1:02:29 was just 18 seconds outside his PB while a fading Kipsang completed a Kenyan sweep of medals in 1:02:58.

La Rosa, fourth in 1:03:46, was the first European home.

“Winning an IAAF Label road race is an incredible accolade for me,” said Kirui. “Over the closing three kilometres there was a strong headwind and that prevented me getting a faster clocking.

“My plan was to take turns with my mates Kipsang and Muteti to attack the record but I finally decided to run on my own from the seventh kilometre onwards. It was a pity not to set a course record, but I liked the circuit and hope to come back next year to do it.”

-Kwambai, a star in the making-

Antonina Kwambai wins the Santa Pola International Half Marathon on January 22, 2017. PHOTO/IAAF

The women’s race witnessed the gun-to-tape success of Antonina Kwambai.

Only Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Gudeta managed to stay near Kwambai during the first five kilometres, which they covered in 16:16. Surprisingly, Britain’s Lily Partridge was never a factor as she had already lost 35 seconds at that early stage of the race.

But Gudeta could simply not follow the Kenyan’s relentless rhythm as Kwambai went through 10km in 32:26, already 28 seconds up on Gudeta and 1:21 ahead of Partridge.

Kwambai’s lead on the Ethiopian rose to 1:34 by the 15th kilometre and the Briton began to threaten Gudeta’s runner-up place as she moved within 15 seconds of her opponent.

During the closing stages the only question was whether Kwambai would be able to finish within 70 minutes.

And the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ as the previously unheralded Kenyan crossed the finish line in 1:09:49, head and shoulders clear of Gudeta who kept the Briton at bay to take second place in 1:11:31 to Partridge’s 1:12:12.

“I’m over the moon as I’ve lowered my PB by nearly three minutes,” said the 22-year-old, who has a 10km PB of 31:42, despite only starting in athletics a few years ago.

“I can’t ask for more, but the annoying wind prevented a faster time. Today’s race has been my first experience in Spain but I’m already eager to return as soon as possible.”

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