NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 1 – Kenyan athletes were once again in their imperious form in 2018, ruling all the major races both on road and cross country, arguably the biggest of them all being Eliud Kipchoge’s World Record run at the Berlin Marathon in September.
-Men’s Half Marathon
In March, Geoffrey Kamworor won his third consecutive title at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia. The race didn’t start particularly fast as athletes battled strong winds, but Kamworor threw in a 13:01 split between 15 and 20 kilometres to break apart the field.
He went on to win in 1:00:02 with Bahrain’s Abraham Cheroben taking silver in 1:00:22.
Eritrea’s Aron Kifle took bronze in a personal best of 1:00:31. Ethiopia didn’t have any individual medallists in the men’s race but they claimed the team gold as their leading trio placed fourth, fifth and sixth individually.
Valencia returned to the spotlight seven months later when Abraham Kiptum broke the world half marathon record.
The 29-year-old Kenyan clocked 58:18 to take five seconds off the mark set by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese in Lisbon in 2010.
It was Kiptum’s fourth half marathon of the season and followed on from the 59:09 PB he set in Copenhagen in September. He also ran two marathons in 2018, winning in Daegu and finishing second in Abu Dhabi.
Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer produced two notable performances among his five half marathons. The 22-year-old clocked 59:00 in Ras Al Khaimah in February and 58:33 for second place behind Kiptum in Valencia.
Japan-based Kenyan Bedan Muchiri won in Ras Al Khaimah in 58:42, the third fastest time of the season. Kenya’s Erick Kiptanui won in Berlin in April in 58:42 and Ethiopian Abadi Hadis was the fifth athlete under 59 minutes in 58:44 in Valencia.
At the Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge chopped an unprecedented one minute and 18 seconds off the previous world record of 2:02:57 set by compatriot Dennis Kimetto in 2014.
In an era when record increments are usually narrow, this was an unbelievable achievement.
The last time the men’s marathon world record was improved by this much was back in 1967 when Australia’s Derek Clayton clocked 2:09:36.4 to win the Fukuoka Marathon, bettering Morio Shigematsu’s 2:12:00 from 1965 by more than two minutes.
Before his triumph in Berlin, Kipchoge had started his season with a 2:04:17 win at the London Marathon, his third win in three races in London and his ninth consecutive marathon victory, a streak that dates back to 2013.
Once again, the strength in depth in the marathon improved. The times achieved by the 10th (2:04:40), 20th (2:05:30) and 50th (2:07:30) fastest runners this year are easily the best ever.
The marathon with the best depth in 2018 was Dubai in January. In the one of the tightest races ever, the first six athletes finished between 2:04:00 and 2:04:15.
-Other men’s road events
Teenager Rhonex Kipruto came close to breaking fellow Kenyan Leonard Komon’s world 10km record of 26:44 from 2010. The 19-year-old won in Prague in 26:46, becoming only the second athlete to cover 10km within 27 minutes.
Kipruto also produced the second fastest time of the season, winning in 27:08 in New York in April. On the track he won the world U20 10,000m title in Tampere.
Uganda’s Commonwealth 10,000m champion Joshua Cheptegei clocked a 27:16 national 10km record in Durban in October.
-Men’s cross country
Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo was the runner to beat in cross country races this year. The 18-year-old finished second in Elgoibar and Seville in January, but the last four races of the cross country season ended in a clear victory for the youngster.
In February he won in San Vittore Olona, then three races in November in Atapuerca, Soria and Alcobendas.
Kiplimo, the world U20 cross-country champion, will be one of the big favourites to win at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019. Born in 2000, he could still race in the U20 category, but he has the potential to win the senior race.
Eritrea’s Aron Kifle finished second in Atapuerca and Alcobendas in November and appears to be the closest rival to Kiplimo right now.
-Women’s half marathon
In arguably the best ever year for the event, Kenyan runners dominated the women’s half marathon and provided new entries at second, third, fourth and sixth on the world all-time list.
The top race came early in the year on 9 February in Ras Al Khaimah where world record-holder Joyciline Jepkosgei, despite running 1:06:46, finished fifth, almost two minutes behind the sprint for the win where Fancy Cherono held off Mary Keitany, Caroline Kipkurui and Joan Melly.
All of the top four women lowered their PBs and were close to Jepskosgei’s world record of 1:04:51. Chemutai missed it by one tantalising second, Keitany by four seconds, Kipkirui by 16 seconds and Melly by 45 seconds.
Just two months later in Prague, Melly came even closer – just 13 seconds – when winning in 1:05:04 to move into fourth place on the world all-time list.
However, despite their depth, Kenya had to make do with the silver and bronze medals at the World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia on 24 March when Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta set a women-only world record.
After the Kenyan contingent had pushed the early pace, Gudeta took off alone with seven kilometres to go and won by almost three quarters of a minute in 1:06:11, in the process taking 14 seconds off the women’s-only world record that had stood since 2007.
In the autumn there was another flurry of times in the 1:05 to 1:07 range, topped by Sifan Hassan’s triumph in Copenhagen.
Two weeks after running 3:59.41 to finish third in the 1500m at the IAAF Diamond League final and one week after clocking a world-leading 8:27.50 in the 3000m at the IAAF Continental Cup, the Dutch runner clocked a European record of 1:05:15 to win in the Danish capital, moving to eighth on the world all-time list.
Ten years ago there were no performances within 1:07.
Six years ago there were two sub-1:07 runs by two different women, while three years ago there were five sub-1:07 runs from four women. This year the numbers have risen to 28 sub-1:07 runs from 20 women.
The women’s marathon world records might not have been seriously threatened, but 2018 can be billed as the best ever year for women’s marathon running.
Sub-2:20 performances were achieved by 11 women, six of whom also went sub-2:19. Both tallies obliterated the previous records (six sub-2:20s in 2012 and three sub-2:19s in 2017).
The year started with an Ethiopian bang in January as they occupied the top 12 positions in Dubai with seven finishing inside 2:22 and four under 2:20, headed by Roza Dereje’s 2:19:17.
They still had enough remaining depth to achieve a 1-2 finish at February’s Tokyo Marathon, the first World Marathon Majors race of the year, through Birhane Dibaba (2:19:51) and Ruti Aga (2:21:19), and for Meskerem Assefa to win in Nagoya in March in 2:21:45.
Boston, the second World Marathon Major, in mid-April had appalling weather conditions and Desiree Linden’s 2:39:54 ultimately proved sufficient to win by more than four minutes.
But then the Kenyans got going and they dominated in London by filling four of the top five places with Vivian Cheruiyot scoring a decisive win in 2:18:31.
Kenya also had April winners in Paris (Betsy Saina 2:22:56), Rotterdam (Visiline Jepkesho 2:23:47) and Vienna (Nancy Kiprop 2:24:18).
With no global championship this summer, the top marathon runners rested during the summer months and returned invigorated in the autumn. In the shadow of Eliud Kipchoge’s breath-taking 2:01:39 in the men’s race, the women in Berlin produced a brilliant race.
For the first time ever, the top three finished inside 2:19 as Gladys Cherono won in 2:18:11 from Ruti Aga (2:18:34) and Tirunesh Dibaba (2:18:55).
Kenya continued their winning ways in the two remaining World Marathon Majors with Bridgid Kosgei winning in Chicago in 2:18:35 and Mary Keitany winning in New York by more than three minutes in 2:22:48, having covered the second half in 1:06:58.
Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich produced one of the big surprises of the road-running season when winning in Istanbul in November in 2:18:35, moving to seventh on the world all-time list.
Ethiopia, however, produced another impressive mass finish in Frankfurt in October with Meskerem Assefa winning in 2:20:36 followed by five compatriots finishing inside 2:23.
There is no clear-cut answer as to which nation was the 2018 marathon market leader. Kenya amassed the most significant wins but Ethiopia had the greater depth with 11 of the top 15 on the year list.
-Women’s cross country
With 2018 being an even year, the cross-country season missed the focus of a World Championships so the major international encounters were few and far between.
However, the trio of Agnes Tirop, Lilian Rengeruk and Ruth Jebet took turns winning on the IAAF Cross Country Permit circuit in January.
Rengeruk finished one second ahead of Tirop in San Giorgio su Legnano on 6 January.
Jebet triumphed ahead of Tirop and Rengeruk on 14 January in Elgoibar, and one week later it was Tirop on top followed by Rengeruk with Jebet in 4th beaten also by Hellen Obiri.
The top Ethiopians were not as active but two-time world U20 cross-country champion Letesenbet Gidey demonstrated her exceptional ability by dominating the classic Cinque Mulini race in early February. Gidey has also started off the 2018/2019 season with two clear wins in Europe.