This past weekend was a big one for fans of athletics.
Domestically, the clubs turned out for the regional 12 stage relays, the qualifying events for the national at Sutton Park on April 9th, whilst some of the top British men and women tested their London Marathon fitness at the Reading Half, where 6 broke 65 minutes and 29 broke 70.
The big story of the weekend came from the Big Apple, where Galen Rupp and Mo Farah were making their highly anticipated debuts over 13.1 miles in the New York City Half Marathon. Facing them were the likes of Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezhigi, Peter Kamais and the man who won in this city on his full marathon debut in November, Gebre Gebremariam. British men’s marathoning has seen a decline in recent years and there are strong calls for Farah to step up to the long distances and reproduce his excellent track form on the roads. Rupp, his new training partner with Alberto Salazar’s Oregon Project, must have been asked the same questions about ‘stepping up’ in the States. And step up they did. Starting steadily, and still in a lead group of 10 at halfway, Farah and Rupp worked together to push the pace and drop everyone but Gebremariam, a renowned kicker. It came down to a final mile burn-up. Farah outkicked his Ethiopian rival in the closing metres to seal the win in 60:23, a truly world class time and a National record. Andrew Lemoncello, using the race as a warm up for London, ran a personal best time of 63 flat.
It must be remembered, of course, that the man whom Farah beat into second place on Sunday is not just an excellent road runner but a World Cross Country champion to boot. Sunday also saw the latest edition of this event, held this year in the Spanish Town of Punta Umbria. Say what you like about the decline in popularity of Cross Country, but the World Cross is one of the most competitive events on the planet. In conditions usually reserved for summer track meets – I imagine the British guys found it tough – last year’s star of the Diamond League circuit in the 5000m, Imane Merga, kicked away from the Kenyans to secure his first individual title. Having 4 of the top 5, Kenya wrapped up the team gold in style. Vivian Cheruiyot won the women’s race with her compatriot Linet Masai taking silver. The USA’s Shalane Flanagan impresed by winning the bronze medal.
With all this racing going on, Zersenay Tadese’s world record attempt at the Lisbon Half Marathon is unbelievably a footnote to this racing review. He came to Portugal last year to remove 10 seconds off Sammy Wanjiru’s record, running a staggering 58:23. He returned on Sunday to try and put the record further out of reach but fell short by 7 seconds. He now holds the two fastest times ever over the distance. The man is without question the best half marathon runner in the world.
Maybe Mo Farah will try and change that.