By Cathal Dennehy, @cathal_dennehy
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

SAFI, MOROCCO (07-Jan) — Ethiopians Getaneh Molla and Meseret Belete Tola emerged triumphant at the Safi International Half-Marathon here this morning, the pair unleashing impressive sprint finishes on the rain-soaked streets of this Moroccan city on the Atlantic Ocean.

PHOTO: Getaneh Molla of Ethiopia slides to victory in 1:03:01 at the first Safi Half-Marathon in Safi, Morocco, on January 7 (photo by Ekaterina Moysov for Race Results Weekly)

On a course with many stiff undulations, fast times were never likely to be on the cards, and that was only heightened by the testing conditions; wind and rain battered the runners throughout the latter half of the race.

In the men’s contest, Molla came home a winner by just two seconds in 1:03:01, the Ethiopian powering away from Bahrain’s El Hassan El Abbassi on the downhill run to the finish alongside the city’s coastline.  Molla had been the in-form athlete in recent months, most recently taking victory over a formidable field at the Cross de Atapuerca in Spain in November, when reigning world 5000m champion Muktar Edris was among those left trailing in his wake.

While crossing the line in Safi, Molla must have wished he had some spikes in his racing shoes. The Ethiopian slipped on the wet finishing mats and crashed to the ground, but appeared unharmed when walking to the podium later to receive his winning trophy –a handmade ceramic vase, the local specialty– along with his winner’s check for 30,000 Moroccan dirhams, about USD $3200.

“It was hard, with the course and the weather,” said Molla, speaking English. “I waited until the last kilometer because my speed is good.”

El Abbassi came home a close second in 1:03:03, with Kenya’s Josphat Kipchirchir rounding out the podium in 1:03:08. Pre-race favorite Abraham Cheroben of Bahrain, who clocked 58:40 at the Copenhagen Half-Marathon last September, ran with the leaders until halfway but dropped out soon after, and the 25-year-old was limping when he eventually arrived at the finish.

The women’s race also saw an upset, with Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo, the women’s marathon gold medalist at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, finding neither the slow pace nor the difficult conditions to her liking. In a race that boiled down a burn-up over the last mile, she came home fourth in 1:13:30.

As the leading contenders arrived in the home straight, local drummers and performers stirred up a raucous atmosphere at the finish, and the race for victory proved suitable climactic, with unheralded Ethiopian Meseret Belete Tola taking a narrow victory in 1:13:27, just inches ahead of Bahrain’s Dalilah Abdelkadir Gosa (1:13:28). It was Tola’s first time racing outside Ethiopia, and proved a memorable day for the 18-year-old.

PHOTO: Meseret Belete Tola of Ethiopia (right) edges Dalilah Abdelkadir Gosa of Bahrain to win the first Safi Half-Marathon in Safi, Morocco, on January 7 in 1:13:27 (photo by Ekaterina Moysov for Race Results Weekly)

“It’s the biggest win of my life,” Tola said, using the men’s winner Molla as an impromptu translator.

The podium was rounded out by Celestine Chepchirchir, who finished third in 1:13:29, one second ahead of Chelimo, who revealed that her main targets for 2018 will be the London Marathon in April and the Asian Games marathon in August.

“I’m expecting to achieve a lot this year,” she said. “London is the most competitive race. There are many athletes there but I’m trying my best to at least run well.”

Top Results:
1. Getaneh Molla (ETH) 1:03:01
2. El Hassan El Abbassi (BRN) 1:03:03
3. Josphat Kipchirchir (KEN) 1:03:08
4. Gizachu Hailu (ETH) 1:03:13
5. Toufik Al Allam (MAR) 1:03:15

1. Meseret Belete Tola (ETH) 1:13:27
2. Dalilah Abdelkadir Gosa (BRN) 1:13:28
3. Celestine Chepchirchir (KEN) 1:13:29
4. Rose Chelimo (BRN) 1:13:30
5. Zenebe Debebe Getachu (ETH) 1:13:34