NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 11 – In its first year as an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, the eDreams Mitja Marato Barcelona on 12 February will welcome back Florence Kiplagat, who will be aiming to break the world half marathon record for the third time.
Kiplagat, the 2010 world half marathon champion, set a world record of 1:05:12 three years ago in Barcelona. She took three seconds off that mark at the 2015 edition, also setting world records for 15km (46:14) and 20km (1:01:54) along the way.
She added a third consecutive victory in 2016, running a relatively modest season’s best of 1:09:19 and will now try to match her performances from the previous years.
Kiplagat finished third at the 2016 London Marathon before winning the Chicago Marathon in a season’s best of 2:21:32.
The Kenyan ace has not raced since then so her form remains a question mark. At the pre-race press conference the world record holder was cautious but confident of signing a good race on Sunday.
“I’m in quite good form,” she said. “If the wind lets me run fast, I would like to attack my record.”
She will also be fired up after hearing that her world record was broken on Friday by Peres Jepchirchir, who clocked 1:05:06 in Ras al-Khaimah.
In a bid to get a quick clocking, Kiplagat will be paced by Kenyan Dickson Kipchumba and Spain’s Eldoret-based Marc Roig, the athlete who led Kiplagat to her two previous world records.
Ethiopia’s Dibaba Kuma, who holds a PB of 1:09:18, will be looking to join Kiplagat on the podium.
The European contingent comprises Portugal’s European half marathon bronze medallist Jessica Augusto, Ireland’s two-time European cross-country champion Fionnuala Mc Cormack and Italy’s 2010 European marathon champion Anna Incerti.
Of those three, McCormack appears to be in the best form currently, but she will be contesting only her fourth ever half marathon, having clocked a best of 1:10:44 in New York last year.
Mc Cormack has kicked off the year in style with a runner-up spot at the Great Edinburgh X-Country and a fourth-place finish in Antrim last month.
She also won the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Alcobendas in late November and finished fifth at the European Cross Country Championships.
Augusto finished third in Barcelona last year in 1:10:58. Her most recent appearance came at the New Year’s Eve 10km race in Lisbon, which she won comfortably in 33:07.
The Portuguese runner will try to get close of her career best of 1:09:21 set back in 2009. Meanwhile, 37-year-old Incerti managed 1:12:51 last year, but holds a PB of 1:08:18 set in 2012.
USA’s Sara Hall, a 1:10:08 performer, South Africa’s Irvette van Zyl and Switzerland’s Maja Neuenschwander should also battle for a top-five spot.
Kenyan clash on the cards
The men’s cast is headed by Leonard Kipkoech Langat, whose PB of 59:18 was set in Rome last year.
The 26-year-old Kenyan finished in the top three in all of his half marathons last year but didn’t win any of those races, so he will be keen to take the top step of the podium in Barcelona.
He will be joined by fellow Kenyans Joel Kimurer and Abel Kirui. Kimurer boasts a PB of 59:36 while his last outing was a 2:08:07 victory at the Seoul Marathon. Kirui, however, is the most decorated athlete in the field.
The two-time world marathon champion won the Barcelona Half Marathon in 2012, just a few months before taking the Olympic silver medal in the marathon.
The 34-year-old’s PB of 1:00:11 dates back to 2007, but he showed good form last October when winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:11:23.
Ethiopia’s Million Yehualashet will have the complicated task of spoiling a potential Kenyan sweep of medals while Kenya’s Victor Kimutai Chumo will be in charge of the pace duties in the hunt for a sub-60-minute performance.
A record figure of 16,700 runners have signed up to run on Sunday. Weather forecasters predict quite a windy day, another factor which may mitigate against Kiplagat setting another world record, and an 80% chance of rain with temperatures between 12-14C at the time of the event.