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Jepchirchir the star attraction at Yangzhou Half Marathon

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Peres Jepchirchir on her way to winning the World Half Marathon in Cardiff title earlier in the year/PHOTO- Agencies

Peres Jepchirchir on her way to winning the World Half Marathon in Cardiff title earlier in the year/PHOTO- Agencies

YANGZHOU, April 23- A star-studded field headed by world half marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir looks likely to attack the women’s course record of 1:08:16 at the 2016 Yangzhou Jianzhen International Half Marathon on Sunday in an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Jepcirchir, 23, has enjoyed a flying start to the season. She clocked a personal best of 1:06:39 to finish fourth in Ras Al Khaimah in February and went on to lead a medal sweep for Kenya at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff last month, notching the gold medal with a winning time of 1:07:31.

Considering her recent performance, Jepchirchir stands a good chance to beat the women’s course record of 1:08:16 set by countrywoman Gladys Cherono in 2014. But Jepchirchir is not the only sub-1:07 runner in the field.

Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa cut one minute off her personal best to finish second at the Prague Half Marathon in 1:06:14 earlier this month. The 25-year-old is not only the fastest women in the field but also the fourth fastest in the world this year. Moreover, Degefa has accumulated lots of experience running in Yangzhou.

She set a course record of 1:08:43 to win here in 2013 and finished second in 1:09:07 behind Cherono in 2014. Last year she finished second again as she was outraced on the final straight by Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech.

The 27-year-old Kenyan Paskalia Kipkoech, who set her PB of 1:07:17 back in 2012, is also a serious contender. She was the bronze medallist at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 2012 and clocked 1:09:44 to finish seventh in Cardiff.

The field also includes sub-70-minute runners such as Kenyan duo Pauline Wanjiku Muchiri, who improved her PB to 1:09:52 en route to finishing second in Paris back in March, and Polline Wanjiku Njeru who has a PB of 1:09:06   from 2014.

Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba is also a woman to watch on Sunday. Although her half marathon PB is only 1:10:28, she is a very fast marathon runner with a best of 2:22:30. She was the winner of the Tokyo Marathon in 2015 and finished fifth in 2:23:16 in the Japanese capital earlier this year.

-Geremew set for title defense-

In the men’s race Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew is looking to defend his title. The 24-year-old set a Chinese all-comers’ record of 59:52 last year in Yangzhou and broke the course record of 1:00:08, set by Nguse Amlosom in 2014, to stage the first sub-60-minute performance on Chinese soil.

He is also the fastest man in the field with a speedy PB of 59:11, set in 2014 when he finished third in New Delhi. However, he has not managed to dip under the one-hour barrier yet this year with his best being 1:00:45 to finish second at the Houston Half Marathon in January.

Geremew will be joined by seven other sub-60 men in Yangzhou and his Ethiopian compatriot Feyisa Lilesa could prove the biggest threat. The 26-year-old has a PB of 59:22 set in 2012 which has been standing as the course record for the Houston Half Marathon to date. A bronze medallist in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships back in 2011, he has also shown solid form this year, taking the Tokyo Marathon title in style in a time of 2:06:56.

Boosted by his victory at the Hague Half Marathon last month, Kenya’s Edwin Kipyego is also aiming for the title in Yangzhou. The 25-year-old’s winning mark in the Hague was 1:00:27, 57 seconds shy of his PB of 59:30 set last year in Copenhagen. Kipyego also competed at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff but only finished in a lacklustre 12th place in 1:01:52.

The men’s field also includes Aziz Lahbabi of Morocco (59:25), Ethiopia’s Azmeraw Bekele (59:39), Geofrey Kusuro of Uganda (59:43), and Kenyan duo Vincent Kipsegechi Yator (59:55) and Edwin Kipsang Rotich (59:59), who was the runner-up in Yangzhou in 2014.

It would also be unwise to forget Kenya’s Dickson Chumba, who has an impressive marathon PB of 2:04:32, which he ran to finish third at the Chicago Marathon in 2014.

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