In a turbulent and unpredictable year, it seemed appropriate the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland last Saturday (17) didn’t entirely follow the script.
With a lifetime best of 68:41 prior to the World Half Marathon Championships, Melat Kejeta wasn’t even considered to be the leading European contender, let alone a prospective medallist, but the Ethiopian-born German surprised just about everyone. Kejeta kept herself in title contention until the last kilometre, eventually finishing second in 65:18 behind Kenya's Peres Jepchirchir who successfully reclaimed her title from 2016.
This performance has put Kejeta to the fore of both German and European distance running scene and with the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships less than two years away, expectations on the 28-year-old are only likely to rise. Here is what you need to know about the burgeoning star of continental distance running.
Proud to represent Germany
Melat Kejeta has been a familiar face on the German road racing scene over the last seven years. Born in Ethiopia, Kejeta moved to Germany in 2013 for political reasons and she became an official German citizen in 2019. Kejeta won a de facto trial race for the World Half Marathon Championships in Frankfurt last month in 69:04 before donning the German vest for the first time in Gdynia.
Helping to get Germany off the mark
In 13 appearances at the World Half Marathon Championships prior to Gdynia, Germany had never won a medal. Their best showing was a fourth-place in the discontinued U20 men’s team race in the inaugural edition in 1992 but in a similar fashion to London buses, Germany all of a sudden has two medals to show.
As well as winning a surprise individual silver medal, Kejeta also led the Germans to an unexpected bronze medal in the team race behind Ethiopia and Kenya. This was the first medal for a European nation in the women’s team race since 2005 when the Romanians won the team title from Russia.
Smashing records en route
Kejeta broke a gamut of records in Gdynia, most notably the women’s only European half marathon record of 66:25 which had stood to Lornah Kiplagat since 2006. Her silver medal-winning time of 65:18 was also faster than the previous world record in a single-gender race as well.
But Kejeta was also smashed lifetime bests en route and she displaced some esteemed names from the record books. Her 10km split of 30:47 bettered Irina Mikitenko’s long-standing German record of 30:58 and her finishing time of 65:18 also took down the national record of 67:58 which had stood to three-time Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig since 1995.
Olympic-bound in the marathon
Kejeta is a shoo-in for selection for the marathon at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer. Kejeta finished sixth in the Berlin Marathon last year on her debut in 2:23:57 although she admits she wasn’t wholly pleased as she was targeting a 2:22 debut.
But either way, that time made her the third fastest German marathon runner in history behind Irina Mikitenko (2:19:19) and Uta Pippig (2:21:45).
Training in the company of the GOAT
Ahead of her marathon debut in Berlin last year, Kejeta spent two months training at high altitude in Kaptagat under the tutelage of Patrick Sang who has guided Eliud Kipchoge to his unparalleled marathon career.
Kejeta has also spent time training at altitude in Ethiopia with Haji Adilo’s training group although she opted to train in Kenya last summer in order to avoid the rainy season in Ethiopia.
The high life in St. Moritz
With travel restrictions an unfortunate reality in daily life this summer, Kejeta was based close to home in the rarefied conditions of St. Moritz, Switzerland ahead of the World Half Marathon Championships. Kejeta did most of her training in the company of the Swiss-based Ethiopian Helen Bekele Tola, a 2:21:01 marathon runner.
Queen of the Kassel
Kejeta runs for the Kassel Running Team and her principal coach is veteran distance running coach Winfried Aufenunger who is known affectionately as ‘Aufi.’
Speaking in a recent interview with hlv.de, Kejeta said: “‘Aufi’ gives me a lot of freedom, but I know that he is always there for me and will try to help me when I need it. We get along great in the running team and I always find someone who trains with me when I'm in Kassel.”
Kejeta lives just outside Kassel in the town of Baunatal with her husband Rafael.
Sub-2:20 marathon goal
Kejeta made a promising 2:23:57 debut in the Berlin Marathon last year but she harbours aspirations of becoming just the second German after Irina Mikitenko to break the 2:20-barrier. "I would like to run under 2:20 hours at some point," she said after her debut.
Her coach opined: "My idea would be that Melat would significantly improve her half-marathon best time in the direction of 67:00. You need that kind of time to ultimately run under 2:20 hours."
With her 65:18 lifetime best to her credit, Kejeta seems to be well on her way to achieving her dream of a sub-2:20 marathon.
Away from running...
When she is not training or racing, Kejeta enjoys cooking and watching television. She is also very active on her Instagram account where she posts regular training updates.