Senbere Teferi and Rhonex Kipruto ahead of the Valencia Half Marathon (© Organisers)
The strongest marathon and half marathon fields ever assembled on Spanish soil will dominate the attention of athletics fans when the Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso EDP, a World Athletics Platinum Label road race, and its accompanying half marathon, get underway on Sunday (6).
Men’s half - thrilling Kiplimo-Kipruto showdown
Perusing the impressive entry lists, it would seem that the men’s half marathon, which starts at 8 am, should be the marquee event, given the presence of Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and Kenyan Rhonex Kipruto.
Just 20, Kiplimo, the recently-minted world champion over the distance, should be tipped as the man to beat after his convincing win in Gdynia where he defeated a star-studded field which included his illustrious compatriot Joshua Cheptegei. After being sidelined by injury in the first half of the year, the 20-year-old bounced back in style to set PBs in each distance he tried. He ran a superb 12:48.63 to win in Ostrava over 5000m then followed up a few days later with a 7:26.63 world-leading 3000m effort in Rome. Then came his impressive 58:49 performance to take the world title in just his second attempt over the distance.
But Kiplimo will face a stiff challenge from the 21-year-old Kipruto who returns to the city where he broke the world 10km record on 12 January with an astonishing 26:24 performance. He’s competed just once since - he was third in a 5000m race in Nairobi in early March - but his training sessions have been going well as he looks forward to his debut at the distance.
He’ll be joined by fellow Kenyan Kibiwott Kandie, the only athlete who’s dipped under 59 minutes three times this year. The 24-year-old opened in February with a 58:58 PB victory in Ras Al Khaimah, then improved to 58:38 in Prague in September before taking silver in Gdynia behind Kiplimo in 58:54.
Others to watch include Kenyan Stephen Kiprop (58:42 PB), Bernard Ngeno (59:07) and Alexander Mutiso (59:09). European hopes rest with Julien Wanders, the continent’s record holder with 59:13. The 24-year-old returns to Valencia where he also set the European 10km best of 27:13 in January. Meanwhile, Spain’s Javier Guerra will be looking for a sub-1:01 performance.
The requested pace chart calls for an opening 10km of 27:35, on target for a serious assault on Geoffrey Kamworor’s 58:01 world record. That would bring a €70,000 pay cheque to the winner. A sub-58 minute performance would up the prize to €100,000.
Women’s half - Teferi vs debutant Dibaba
The women’s race promises to be an Ethiopian party thanks to the presence of Senbere Teferi who ran 1:05:32 to win here last year, and the current world 1500m record holder Genzebe Dibaba who will tackle the distance for the first time. While Teferi clocked 2:25:22 for seventh at the Tokyo marathon, Dibaba will race for the first time in 2020. Kenya’s Brenda Jepleting set a career best of 1:07:07 in Prague last September and should be in the hunt for a podium place.
Letesenbet Gidey, the world 5000m record holder, was slated to make her eagerly-anticipate debut over the distance, but was unable to reach Valencia due to the ongoing conflict in her native Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Wide open marathon contests
The men’s marathon, which gets underway at 8:30, likely offers the deepest field ever assembled, with 24 runners bringing sub-2:07 credentials to the start.
The cast is topped by Birhanu Legese, whose 2:02:48 from Berlin last year ranks him the third fastest marathoner of all-time. The 26-year-old’s 2:04:15 victory in Tokyo in February is the fastest in the world this year.
One of his toughest opponents might well be compatriot Jemal Yimer who’ll be making his debut. He boasts a 58:33 half marathon best set two years ago. Kinde Atanew should also be a factor as the reigning champion. He set the 2:03:51 course record last year but hasn’t competed since. The Ethiopian star quintet is completed by 2018 winner Leul Gebrselaasie and the reigning world champion Lelisa Desisa.
Lawrence Cherono will be leading a charge to avoid an Ethiopian podium sweep. The experienced 32-year-old Kenyan won in Chicago last year and holds a 2:04:06 career best. Watch out too for Reuben Kiprop, who clocked 2:04:40 in his marathon to win in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
Others with 2:04-2:05 credentials include Turkey’s European record holder Kaan Kigen Ozbilen (2:04:41), Ethiopians Hayle Lemi (2:04:33) and Abebe Negewo (2:04:51) and Kenyans Evans Chebet and Philemon Rono, both credited with 2:05:00 lifetime bests, plus Abel Kirui (2:05:04). A large group of pacemakers have been tasked to reach the halfway point in 1:01:20, targeting a sub-2:03 finish.
The women’s contest also includes a formidable line-up which includes five athletes who have ducked under 2:20. While she isn’t yet in that club, Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, fresh from an emphatic 1:05:16 women-only race world record at the World Half Marathon Championships, her second fastest run ever, appears to be one of the athletes to beat. She should improve on her 2:23:50 PB.
The same goes for her compatriot Joan Chelimo, holder of a 1:05:04 half marathon best time while Fancy Chemutai (1:04:52) will be making her debut over the distance. The classy Kenyan contingent also includes the former world half marathon record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei.
Yet, the quickest entrants are all Ethiopians: Ruti Aga (2:18:34), Birhane Dibaba, the runner-up earlier this year in Tokyo with a career best of 2:18:35, the 22-year-old Zeineba Yimer (2:19:28 last year in Valencia) and Degitu Azemiraw (2:19:26).
The weather forecast calls for a partly cloudy conditions and an ideal 10 C at start time.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics