CZECH REPUBLIC, May 22 – Joyceline Jepkosgei smashed the Mattoni Karlovy Vary Half Marathon course record as Kenya dominated the men’s and women’s races at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Saturday.
Just five kilometres into the women’s race, the lead group was already down to three, with 23-year-old Kenyan Joyceline Jepkosgei in front followed by her compatriot and 2011 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Kilel as well as Ethiopian Ayantu Gemechu. That was the last time Jepkosgei saw her competition.
“At 8km, I looked around, and there was nobody,” Jepkosgei recalled after the race. “So I had to push myself the rest of the way. The men on the motorbike were my best friends. They were encouraging me to push forward, and the cheering crowd also helped give me strength.”
The heat had an effect on her as well, as she felt tightness in her hamstring late in the race that prevented her from shifting gears for one final push. Nonetheless, Jepkosgei broke the course record by clocking 1:09:07, opening up a gap of more than two minutes over eventual runner-up Gemechu.
Ethiopia got a second runner on the podium when Bekelech Daba moved into third, followed closely by Risa Takenaka of Japan. Petra Kaminkova was the top Czech woman, her time of 1:17:55 earning her seventh place overall.
Jepkosgei is a member of the RunCzech Racing team, which helps up-and-coming runners by providing lodging and support while racing in Europe. Her breakthrough race, in her first international competition, is likely to earn her many more invitations in the future.
The men’s race was the complete opposite. From the start, a group of seven athletes worked together to set an aggressive pace, despite the heat and the hilly course. Kenyan Abraham Akopesha was accompanied by four compatriots, Morocco’s Mustapha El Aziz and Eritrean Simon Tesfay.
Akopesha made his first big push at 15 kilometres into the race and the two least experienced runners in the field – half marathon debutants Wilson Too and Evans Kerui – went with him. Akopesha was able to separate from them, but then seemed to struggle for a time, allowing the two younger runners to reel him in.
“I was thinking that I needed to win, because I knew my two friends were making their debut,” said Akopesha, who found the strength to pull away again before crossing the line first in 1:02:08. “That is what made me push hard the second time.”
Kerui came second, 19 seconds behind the winner, and Too finished another 21 seconds back. With Amos Kurgat rallying to run 1:03:35, Kenyan runners swept the top four places.
The time was not what Akopesha wanted, perhaps because of the difficult conditions, but for two first-time runners at this distance, the race marked an impressive start to promising careers.
“Next year, I guarantee we will challenge the course record,” said Akopesha, with Jepkosgei showing her wide smile and nodding next to him.