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Previews27 Sep 2023

WRRC Riga 23 preview: half marathon


Peres Jepchirchir and Jemal Yimer (© Dan Vernon / Jiro Mochizuki)

Women’s half marathon

Timetable | 2023 world list | world all-time list

When it comes to major road races, Peres Jepchirchir knows how to get the job done. The Kenyan star turns 30 this week and, at the World Athletics Road Running Championships Riga 23, she will look to celebrate it in style by claiming her third world half marathon title. 

Three women – Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe and the Netherlands’ Lornah Kiplagat – have accomplished that before and on Sunday afternoon, Jepchirchir will look to complete the hat-trick after prior victories in 2016 and 2020.

Jepchirchir is the Olympic marathon champion and has taken major wins at that distance since then in New York (2021) and Boston (2022). Having struggled with injury through parts of last year, she bounced back to finish third at the London Marathon in April, clocking 2:18:38. She went on to win the Great North Run half marathon on 10 September, clocking 1:06:45, and given her renowned closing speed, the women-only half marathon world record-holder – who ran 1:05:16 to win her 2020 world title in Gdynia – will prove tough to beat if she’s near her best.

She will be backed up by a slew of formidable teammates, led by Irine Jepchumba Kimais, the Kenyan 10,000m champion who finished a fine fourth at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. The 24-year-old is the quickest in the field via her PB of 1:04:37, which she ran to claim victory at the Barcelona Half Marathon in February.

Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi should also feature, boasting a PB of 1:05:26, and she was a 10,000m bronze medallist at last year’s World Athletics Championships, finishing fourth in the 5000m this year in Budapest. Catherine Relin is another Kenyan name to watch, the 21-year-old setting her PB of 1:05:39 to finish third in Barcelona in February.

Ethiopia has won the women’s individual title just three times in the event’s history, a relatively meagre return for such a distance-running superpower, but they have taken the last two team titles and will be keen to make it a third straight in Riga. Their team is led by Tsigie Gebreselama, who will be backed up by Ftaw Zeray, Yalemget Yaregal and Mestawut Fikir.

Gebreselama won silver at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst earlier this year and clocked her half marathon PB of 1:05:46 to finish second in Valencia last October. Zeray has a best of 1:06:04, run at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in February, while Yaregal – who is just 19 – ran her PB of 1:06:27 in Berlin in April.

Britain’s team will be led by Samantha Harrison, who ran her PB of 1:07:17 in Berlin this year, while Sweden’s Sarah Lahti – a 1:08:19 performer at her best – will also be eyeing a strong finish.

Australia’s Isobel Batt-Doyle, France’s Mekdes Woldu, Italy’s Sofiia Yaremchuk and South Africa’s Glenrose Xaba are among the others to have gone under 1:10.

Riga live stream

Men’s half marathon

Timetable2023 world list | world all-time list

Kenya has won the men’s individual half marathon title 13 times in 24 previous editions and they hold strong claims of taking that tally to 14 on Sunday. They have won the men's team title 16 times, with a 17th looking likely given the strength in their ranks.

They boast a trio of sub-59-minute men in Benard Kibet, Charles Kipkurui Langat and Sabastian Kimaru Sawe, while their next man, Daniel Simiu Ebenyo, is a 59:04 performer.

Kibet smashed his PB to clock 58:45 when winning the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in February and he went on to finish fifth in the 10,000m in Budapest last month, while Langat ran his PB of 58:53 to win in Barcelona in February.

Ethiopia is sure to produce a strong showing, with Jemal Yimer Mekonnen the quickest in their ranks. His PB of 58:33 dates back to 2018 though he was close to that in August, finishing second in the Antrim Coast Half Marathon in Northern Ireland in 58:38. He will be backed up by teammates Nibret Melak, Dinkalem Ayele and Tsegay Kidanu, who are all sub-60 men. Melak finished third at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon last month in 59:49 and ran his PB of 59:06 to win the Lisbon Half Marathon in March. 

With the recent withdrawal of reigning champion Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda’s charge will be led by Andrew Rotich Kwemoi, whose PB of 59:37 was run in Lille, France, last year. He took victory at the Milan Marathon in 2:07:14 earlier this year but failed to finish the marathon at the World Championships in Budapest.

South Africa’s Stephen Mokoka is a 59:37 athlete at his best and he’ll be in contention if he reproduces something similar here, as will Djibouti’s Ibrahim Hassan, a 59:41 performer. Morocco’s challenge is led by Mohamed Reda El Aaraby, who was 25th in this year's World Championships marathon and who has a half marathon PB of 59:54.

The European challenge is led by Jimmy Gressier, the French 26-year-old who clocked his PB of 59:55 to finish third in the Paris Half Marathon in March. He went on to finish ninth in the world 5000m final in Budapest last month.

Japan is a nation that continually produces a horde of world-class half marathoners, owing to its Ekiden traditions, and they boast two strong candidates in Riga in Tomoki Ota, a 1:00:08 performer, and Ryota Kondo, who has a best of 1:00:32.

The women’s half marathon will set off at 1:30pm local time on Sunday, with the men to follow at 2:15pm, joined by the masses.

Each race will start at the Embankment and then cross the River Daugava to Pardaugava, before returning to Old Riga over Vansu Bridge, looping around the historic centre of the city before the finish, which is surrounded by the world-famous Art Nouveau architecture on Elizabeth Street.

With just 11 metres separating the highest and lowest points on the course, the stage looks set for some fast times, though in this, as at every championship, it's really all about the medals.

Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics