Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw took 18 seconds off the world half marathon record, running a remarkable 1:03:44 at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon, a World Athletics Label Road Race, in Larne, Northern Ireland.
Yalemzerf becomes the first woman to break 64 minutes for the half marathon, with her mark improving on the 1:04:02 world record, which had been set by Kenya’s world marathon champion, Ruth Chepngetich in Istanbul on April 4.
Yalemzerf had been second in that race in Istanbul, running 1:04:40, but this time, her dominant performance saw her win the women’s race by six minutes ahead of Kenya’s 19-year-old, Jane Nyaboke (1:09:45), who was racing internationally for the first time.
Britain’s Rose Harvey was third (1:10:29) and Georgie Schwiening fourth (1:11:13), with Northern Ireland’s, Fionnuala Ross (1:13:10) and Ann-Marie McGlynn (1:13:13) fifth and sixth respectively. Yalemzerf’s time placed her ninth overall.
Paced by Roy Hoornweg and Mohamed Ali, Yalemzerf was part of a pack of runners which went through the 5km mark in 15:05 and hit 10km in 30:22. Running back along the coast, Yalemzerf passed the 15km mark in 45:24 looking comfortable and continued to push on, eventually crossing the finish line full of emotion, with 1:03:44 on the clock.
“This was a dream come true for me,” 22-year-old Yalemzerf said on the live BBC stream. “I have tried twice before to break the World record but it didn’t happen, but I’m so happy it happened today in Larne.”
The performance would mean even more to Yalemzerf after she finished fourth in the Ethiopian Trials 10,000m and did not make the team for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. She was also left motivated after her third-place finish at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia last October.
“At the World Half Marathon Championships, I was trying to win gold but it didn’t happen,” Yalemzerf added, “But today I’m so happy.”
Coached by Tessema Abshero as part of the NN Running Team, Yalemzerf made her international debut in 2019, when she won the Rabat Half Marathon in 1:09:13. Returning to Rabat four months later, she won the African Games title and then finished second at the Delhi Half Marathon.
Her bronze medal win at the 2020 World Half Marathon Championships was followed by victory in Delhi, where her winning time of 1:04:46 was then the second-fastest ever women’s half marathon. In Istanbul in April, she improved to 1:04:40 which put her third on a world all-time list, since rewritten thanks to her 1:03:44 in Larne.
It was an Ethiopian double in Larne as national record-holder Jemal Yimer won a close men’s race in 1:00:30 ahead of his compatriot Tesfahun Akalnew (1:00:31) and Kenya’s Shadrack Kimining (1:00:32).
A lead group of four had broken away early on and Kimining led Britain’s Marc Scott, Jemal and Tesfahun through 10km in 28:53. Kimining remained to the fore as the group passed 15km in 43:29 but as the race came down to a sprint finish, it was 2017 world 10,000m fifth-placed Jemal who had the strongest kick and he held off Tesfahun by a single second, with Kimining just another second behind. Scott finished fourth in 1:00:35 and Nigel Martin fifth in 1:03:22, with Ireland’s Ryan Creech sixth in 1:03:26.
“I am happy with my win,” said jemal, who is set to make his marathon debut in Boston in October. “I had prepared for a course record but due to the wind and the circumstances, I didn’t make sub-60 but I am happy with the win.”