Former Commonwealth and African 10,000m champion Joyce Chepkirui of Kenya will face a stiff challenge as she returns to the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon in the Czech Republic on Saturday.
The Prague Half Marathon champion leads a horde of eight Kenyans at the race. The team departed Nairobi on Wednesday for the Czech capital.
Ethiopia’s world half marathon champion Netsanet Gudeta is fastest on the entry list but Chepkirui is banking on her endurance and speed to turn the tables and claim the title.
“I have had very good training and will be happy to see who the opposition lining up against me is. I want to run a fast time and look at making the Kenya team for the World Championships in 2019 in Qatar,” she said Wednesday in Nairobi.
Chepkirui said she will not be seeking a slot in the Kenya team at the Africa Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria, but will be keen to improve her performance on the road.
“I have no plans to compete on the track this season. My focus is on the road race and hopefully, I will string together good results and put my name up for selection to the marathon team for the World Championships next year,” she added.
Gudeta of Ethiopia is the leading athlete, based on time. She was second at the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon last year, running 27 seconds quicker than the 66:38 course record of Mary Keitany from 2015.
But Chepkirui, who ran 66:19 to win the Prague Half Marathon in 2014, will be the athlete to watch.
Alongside Chepkirui, Kenya will also have Antonina Kwambai (68:07) and Linet Masai (69:33) who are returning from maternity leave and are keen to restart their road racing careers.
Other athletes to watch out for will be Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia (67:21), and Trihas Gebre of Spain (69:57), who is the top European along with in-form Frenchwoman Clemence Calvin.
Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova leads the domestic entries. Organizers have invited seven athletes who have previously run under the 70-minute mark.
Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer, who was second in Ras Al-Khaimah in United Arab Emirates in February in a time of 59:00 is the fastest of four sub-60 runners in the men’s field.
He will have to contend with Kenyans Gilbert Masai (59:31), Justus Kangogo (59:31), Stephen Kiprop (59:44) and Abel Kipchumba (60:05), while Jiri Homolac (63:23) is the top domestic entrant.