The Ethiopian total of eight points, in the low-score format, was easily better than the 21 points compiled by the Japanese squad in second place. Kenya with 24 points finished in third place, but their chances all but disappeared when defending women's champion Edith Masai was hit by a hamstring pull in the first mile, forcing her to jog, rather than race the 13.1-mile distance.
"The youth of Ethiopia prevailed today," said FSN TV commentator Toni Reavis. "When Masai went out early, the Kenyans had no one to step into the breach. But notwithstanding, the Ethiopian performance should not be discounted. They ran beautifully as a team, and were worthy champions."
The professional women started 15 minutes ahead of the men and the 20,000 regular runners in front of the Virginia Beach Convention Center on 19th Street. Even under near ideal conditions, the women began conservatively with a 6:00 first mile. They formed up into a nine-woman lead pack after a 5:42 second mile, with all three Ethiopians joined by the four-woman Japanese team, 2006-07 champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya and Europe's top woman Daniela Cirlan of Romania.
The professional men began their journey as aggressively as if catching the lead women were their task. Led by Ethiopian's Yigeze and Lilesa, they hit 4:41 for mile one, then strung together five consecutive mid-4:30 miles, putting the 2005 course record of 1:00:42 in jeopardy. At mile four, the race turned into a two man duel, with Lilesa, the 19-year-old from Ethiopia joined by Chebor, who earlier this year won the Azkoitia Half Marathon in Spain. Each tried unsuccessfully to drop the other in a series of punishing surges as the route turned to the backside of the course from miles five through nine.
"This was as no holds barred of a competition as we've seen in a long time," said FSN color man Todd Williams, a two-time Olympian. "The surges were all out blasts. It was hard to believe they were racing a half-marathon."
Up ahead the lead women remained together in a pack of six, having passed 10K in 35:35, with the three young Ethiopians and Japanese still holding their fire. It would remain so until the final sprint up the famed oceanfront boardwalk when Gelan edged away for the win in 1 hour, 13 minutes, 43 seconds, followed closely by Gelana and Mengistu. The Japanese duo of Hiroko Miyauchi and Yumi Hirata trailed behind in fourth and fifth.
The men's competition finally broke as the course looped back along General Booth Boulevard just past nine miles. For maybe the tenth time in the race Chebor surged ahead, and this time Lilesa could not cover the move.
"The course was very nice, I like the Rock 'n' Roll," said Chebor. "All the other runners on the course were cheering and it made me go."
With victory assured, Chebor held his lead to the finish line in 1:01:29, while Lilesa followed in 1:02:15, with Yigeze in third (1:03:24). Chebor trains with 2002 Virginia Beach champion and former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat. Chebor also was coming off his debut marathon in Australia this July, a 2:11 victory at the Gold Coast Marathon.
Cele Rodriguez was the top American male, finishing in tenth at 1:05:17. Veena Reddy, from Virginia was the top American female, also finishing tenth with a time of 1:20:11. Europe and the U.S. tied for fourth in the team competition with 42 points.
In its first year, the team challenge matched five countries competing cross-country style for a $10,000 first place prize. Points were awarded on the basis of finishing place, the Ethiopian team, with the lowest score of 8 total points, was declared the winner.
The Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon will celebrate its tenth running in Virginia Beach on September 5, 2010.
9th Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon
Virginia Beach, VA, Sunday, September 6, 2009
1) William Chebor (KEN), 1:01:29
2) Feyisa Lilesa (ETH), 1:02:15
3) Zembaba Yigezu (ETH), 1:03:24
4) Samuel Ndereba (KEN), 1:03:50
5) Noritaka Fijiyama (JPN), 1:03:50
1) Abebu Gelan (ETH), 1:13:43
2) Tiki Gelana (ETH), 1:13:45
3) Meseret Mengistu (ETH), 1:13:46
4) Hiroko Miyauchi (JPN), 1:13:52
5) Yumi Hirata (JPN), 1:13:56
International Team Challenge
1) Ethiopia, 8 points, $10,000
2) Japan, 21
3) Kenya, 24
4) USA, 42
4) Europe, 42
More results at: www.rnrvb.com