Ruth Chepngetich wins the Istanbul Half Marathon (© Organisers)
With the strongest field ever assembled in the race’s 16-year history, it would not be over-optimistic to expect that one or two records will tumble at the N Kolay Istanbul Half Marathon, a World Athletics Elite Label road race, on Sunday (4).
Even though several other stars will line up on the day, the spotlight will be on the duel between the reigning world half-marathon record-holder Kibiwott Kandie and his predecessor Geoffrey Kamworor. Having run under 59 minutes in his three outings over the distance earlier on in 2020, Kandie ended the year on an even higher note by clocking a world record time of 57:32 in Valencia. Kamworor, who set the previous record of 58:01 in Copenhagen in September 2019, was out of action at the time as he recovered from surgery after he was hit by a motorcycle in June last year, but returned to the course two months ago at the Kenya Police Service Championships where he bagged his eighth successive title. Both Kenyans could run well under the race record of 59:50 held by Amdework Walelegn of Ethiopia.
Walelegn, who won in Istanbul in 2018, is himself one the contenders. The 22-year-old ranked the top Ethiopian when finishing third in his then personal best of 59:08 at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia last year. Walelegn then improved his PB to 58:53 in New Delhi in November. The Istanbul Half Marathon will be Walelegn’s first race since and he will be one of the favourites to step on the podium.
Another sub-59-minute runner on the start line will be Stephen Kissa. The Ugandan had never run a half-marathon until February 2020 when he made his debut in Barcelona with 1:00:00. Kissa crossed the finish line in 1:00:34 at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships, then went on to achieve a PB of 58:56 in New Delhi in what was only his third appearance over the distance.
Also an outstanding name in the field is Kenya’s Leonard Barsoton, who could be described as a consistent runner. Sixth in Gdynia 2020 with 59:34, Barsoton finished the year with 59:10. The World Cross Country Championships silver medallist from 2017, Barsoton ran his lifetime best of 59:09 in 2019.
Hopes are high that the competition between the local stars Kaan Kigen Ozbilen and Aras Kaya will result in a national record. Ozbilen, the European marathon record-holder with 2:04:16, holds the Turkish half-marathon record of 59:48, the time he set in Ras Al Khaimah in 2019. Kaya ran his career best at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, finishing the race in 1:00:51, two minutes ahead of his compatriot. In-shape Kaya was a distant winner at the National Inter-Clubs Cross Country League where Ozbilen did not participate, covering the 10km in 27:28 on 13 March.
It is also worth watching out for Amanal Petros of Germany. Having run 1:01:37 in very windy conditions in Dresden only two weeks ago, the national marathon record-holder has travelled to Istanbul eyeing the half-marathon record of 1:00:34 which has stood since 1993.
There should also be an interesting battle on the women’s side. Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, the marathon world record-holder, will face Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia, the second-fastest female half-marathon runner in history. Kosgei herself is the third athlete on the half-marathon all-time list. However, the 27-year-old holds the fastest time ever registered, 1:04:28, but on a non-record-eligible course at the Great North Run in 2019. Both Kosgei and Yehualaw achieved their official personal bests in 2020, 1:04:46 and 1:04:49 respectively.
The field also includes Ruth Chepngetich, the reigning world marathon champion, who won this race twice in her two appearances in 2017 and 2019. The Kenyan is also the owner of the race record with a time of 1:05:30 from two years ago. The Istanbul Half Marathon will be Chepngetich’s first half-marathon since she ran a PB of 1:05:06 in New Delhi last November. As she is familiar with the Istanbul course, which had only a slight tweak this year to avoid an underpass, Chepngetich will start the race as a co-favourite.
Another Kenyan in contention will be Joan Chelimo Melly whose lifetime best is 1:05:04 from Prague 2018. In her only two outings in 2020, Melly finished the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in 1:06:16 in February and the Valencia Marathon in 2:20:57 in December. Like several others in the race, Melly will step on the race course for the first time in 2021.
Half-marathon women-only world record-holder Peres Jepchirchir had to withdraw due to a stomach issue with one week to go. On the other hand, two-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist in 5000m, Hellen Obiri, is a late addition to the field. The Kenyan star may be new to the roads, but she proved to be as strong as on track when winning the 10km in 30:53 in Barcelona three months ago. Obiri would have run her first half-marathon in Ras Al Khaimah earlier this year had the event not been cancelled due the pandemic. She is now set to debut in Istanbul.
Germany's Melat Kejeta was a surprise silver medallist at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia last year. Her huge PB of 1:05:18 registered as the European women-only record.
Two other women in the line-up have bettered 67 minutes. Alia Saeed Mohammed of the United Arab Emirates boasts of a PB of 1:06:13 from 2018. Yasemin Can, seventh at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships with a national record of 1:06:20, is the focus of the home nation’s hopes in the women’s race.
Others to watch include the Ethiopians Bekelech Gudeta (1:07:03) and Hiwot Gebrekidan (1:07:36), and the Kenyan Stella Rutto (1:07:45).
The race records in Istanbul, 59:50 and 1:05:30, also stand as the Turkish all-comers records.
Can Korkmazoglu (organisers) for World Athletics