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News29 Sep 2023

Coe: Riga set to make history with celebration of running at its best


Jelena Prokopcuka, Sebastian Coe, Peres Jepchirchir, Jessica Hull, Sam Prakel and Aigars Nords in Riga

Two days ahead of the World Athletics Road Running Championships Riga 23, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said that the Latvian capital will mark an important chapter for the sport on 1 October when it hosts the newest World Athletics Series event.

More than 300 of the world’s best endurance runners – including Olympic gold medallists, world champions and world record-holders – will compete for global titles in the road mile, 5km and half marathon. Recreational runners from around the world, meanwhile, will be able to participate in the same distances on the same day.

The event will offer the first ever free global World Athletics live stream of a championships; fans across the world can watch the action live by signing up to Inside Track. The road mile and 5km broadcasts will be open to all registered Inside Track users. Access to the live stream of the half marathon may be subject to broadcast rights restrictions in certain countries.

“Riga, over the next few days, will make history,” said Coe, speaking at the pre-championships press conference. “We haven’t had a new World Athletics Series event since the inaugural World Relays in 2014. We’re bringing a unique running festival to the market and we’re delighted that Riga is the host of these new championships. We have been working with a great members federation and an exceptional organising committee.

“I see Riga as not just a global festival of running and outstanding suffusion of middle-distance and distance runners; it’s an important way of democratising our sport. There are very few sports in the world where recreational participants can compete in the same event as world and Olympic champions.

“This is a celebration of running at its best, across different distances,” added Coe. “From a personal perspective, I’m delighted that we’ve been able to formally enshrine the mile in a world championships, melding it with the 5km and half marathon. It’s an important way of saying that, at every level, running is the most accessible and practised sport on the planet.”

For Aigars Nords, head of the local organising committee, the event has secured Riga’s place on the world road running map. The Latvian capital already welcomes runners for the Rimi Riga Marathon and Half Marathon, both World Athletics Label road races, and now many more stars in the sport will be taking to the city’s streets, joined by mass event runners from more than 100 countries.

“In 2021, when we were bidding for the World Athletics Road Running Championships here in Riga, we had this one secret goal – a long-term goal – in our minds and that was to put Riga on the world road running map,” said Nords. “Here we are, two and a half years later, on the eve of this unique championship.

“This championship marks several historic firsts. It is a first World Athletics Series event that has ever happened in the Baltic countries, it is the first World Road Running Championships, and it is the first World Road Running Championships where the mass race runners can run together with the elite. I am very happy that Riga has been entrusted with this very significant task, to write a new page in road running – that is how we see it.”

Jelena Prokopcuka, the Latvian great who twice won the New York City Marathon, said the championships were a “great event for Latvia” and that she was “very happy to be a part of it” as an event ambassador.

However, Prokopcuka will be no bystander on Sunday, the 47-year-old lacing up her shoes to compete in the half marathon alongside the masses. A bronze medallist at the 2002 World Half Marathon Championships, she knows this will be a far more relaxed effort as she tours the streets of the Latvian capital.

“This race is a very big challenge for me, the last time I ran a half marathon was five years ago,” she smiled. “I will run with people who love running, who will participate in the championships for the first time. Each runner has their goals, and I’d like to wish everyone to achieve their goals. Good luck on Sunday.”

Peres Jepchirchir has lofty goals this weekend. The Olympic marathon champion from Kenya is looking to become just the fourth woman in history to win three world titles at the half marathon.

“I know it won’t be easy and the level of competition is very high, but I’m going to try to do my best,” said Jepchirchir, who won the world half marathon title in 2016 and 2020. “Defending a title is never easy, but it’s not hard if you’ve trained well. I’ve been focusing more on the marathon this year, but I’m still going to try my best on Sunday.

“Last year I was injured,” added Jepchirchir, who returned to action in April with a third-place finish at the London Marathon in 2:18:38. “But now I’m completely healed and injury-free. I won the Great North Run a few weeks ago and I’m looking ahead to the New York Marathon.”

Australia’s Jess Hull is among a select group of athletes who have competed at all three World Athletics Series events in 2023. Her year started with the World Athletics Cross Country Championships on home soil in Bathurst in February, it continued at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August and now it comes to a close on the roads of Riga, where she will race the mile.

“As distance runners, we’re lucky that we can be so versatile and we do have three opportunities to run at a global level across this season,” explained the Oceanian record-holder, who claimed mixed relay bronze in Bathurst and finished seventh in the 1500m final in Budapest.

“It has been an incredible season and if I can be just as consistent as I have been and tie a bow on what has been a great year, it’s going to be really fun. Being part of the excitement of a brand new event has made it something to look forward to at the end of the calendar.”

Riga also gives Hull the chance to race against Kenya’s multiple world record-breaker Faith Kipyegon again, as she makes her road race debut. Hull ran a 1500m PB of 3:57.29 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Florence in June, in a race that Kipyegon won in a world record of 3:49.11.

Of all the experiences she has had so far this year, that race is unsurprisingly one of Hull's highlights.

“It was my PB, but being a part of the race when Faith broke the world record – and I think even surprised herself that night – was just incredible,” she reflected. “To be part of that field who celebrated her success and her journey to being the world record-holder – I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.”

USA’s Sam Prakel comes into the championships as a marked man after his time of 4:01.21 to win the US Road Mile Championships in Des Moines in April was recently ratified as the inaugural world record. The 28-year-old said the mantle of world record holder is “an honour”, adding: “The mile is something I’ve been racing since a very young age. Everyone knows it’s not the fastest record, but it’s a testament to my consistency and always showing up to every race.

Prakel will be proud to don the USA vest again having narrowly missed out on this year’s World Athletics Championships in Budapest. “It’s the best track team in the world,” he said. “When they announced this event last year, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I even scheduled my wedding for a week later so I could be here for this.”

Prakel admitted the road is his favourite surface and Sunday’s race will be his 17th road mile. He knows it presents a very different tactical challenge to the track. “The strategy is a little different, mentally,” he said. “In a road mile, you’re having to go off feel. I’m good at knowing my body and gauging my effort. Knowing the course is important. Every road mile I do, I study the course.”