CZECH REPUBLIC, June 24 – Two-time New York Marathon Champion Mary Keitany will return to the scene of her 1:06:38 course record at the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon while fellow Kenyan Stanley Biwott faces a stiff challenge in his tune up for the Olympic marathon this summer during the seventh edition of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Saturday.
Keitany, the two-time London Marathon Marathon champion, last year took more than two minutes off the course record that had been set by two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat.
She opened with a 15:16 first 5km and continued to pour on the speed until she crossed the line in 1:06:38.
The 34-year-old finished an uncharacteristic ninth at this year’s London Marathon and is looking to rebound with a strong performance as a springboard into training for the autumn marathon season.
But Keitany’s road to a repeat victory will not be easy as the organisers have compiled the deepest field in the history of the race to oppose her.
Leading that group of women will be 25-year-old Kenyan Violah Jepchumba, who in April stunned the road racing world with her victory at the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in 1:05:51, moving her to third on the world all-time list.
Only Florence Kiplagat (1:05:09) and Keitany (1:05:50) have ever run faster.
Since then, Jepchumba has gone on to record victories in Istanbul and Gothenburg with times of 1:08:18 and 1:08:01 respectively, meaning she heads to Olomouc with a string of five wins at the half-marathon distance.
Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa, who finished second to Jepchumba in Prague in a PB of 1:06:14, and Kenya’s2014 Prague Half Marathon winner Joyce Chepkirui, who has a 1:06:18 PB, are equally capable of challenging for the top spot on the podium.
Also running among the elite women will be Eva Vrabcova, a winter Olympian in cross-country skiing, will also be running among the elite women.
Vrabcova qualified for the Czech Olympic team for Rio when she finished sixth at the Volkswagen Prague Marathon in 2:30:10.
“Although all four of these women have run well in RunCzech races in the past, we have never seen such a deep field in one RunCzech race,” said elite athlete coordinator Jana Moberly.
“Now they will all start in Olomouc, and with them our Czech star Eva Vrabcova. This is a dream start list.”
As stellar as the women’s line-up is, the men’s field might actually be even deeper with potential contenders.
All eyes, of course, will be on the 30-year-old Biwott, whose gradual ascent up the road-racing charts has landed him a coveted spot on the Kenyan Olympic team.
In 2013, Biwott clocked 58:56 in a runner-up finish at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon and a year later finished second the London Marathon.
Biwott won last year’s New York City Marathon and in April he finished runner-up to Eliud Kipchoge at the London Marathon in a personal best of 2:03:51.
Like Keitany, this will be Biwott’s first race since the London Marathon. But to claim victory in Olomouc, Biwott is going to have to contend with a slew of top Kenyans.
Leading that group will be Geoffrey Ronoh, who in 2014 was hired as a pace maker for the Olomouc Half Marathon but went on to win in a course record of 1:00:17, beating the likes of Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang.
Ronoh, who has since lowered his PB to 59:45, was unable to defend his title last year due to injury.
Josphat Kiptis, who last year took more than a minute off his PB to win in 1:00:21, is back to defend his title.
Cyprian Kotut, the younger brother of three-time London Marathon champion Martin Lel, will be competing on Czech roads for the first time.
The 24-year-old won this year’s Paris Marathon in a personal best of 2:07:13 and has a half marathon PB of 59:12, set two years ago in New Delhi.
The list of contenders also includes Robert Chemosin, who ran his PB of 59:19 in Rome in 2013, Richard Mengich, who bounced back from injury in April to win the Berlin Half Marathon in 59:58 then lowered that PB to 59:35 in defending his Gothenburg Half Marathon a month later, and David Kogei, who ran his PB of 59:46 in Berlin last year.
The Olomouc Half Marathon will see 6200 runners embark from historic Horni Square at sunset on a charming race course that will take them through lush green parks and on quaint roads before a number of stunning examples of Baroque architecture.