Peres Jepchirchir on the way to victory at the Usti nad Labem Half Marathon
Viola Jepchumba, one of the year’s top breakout road runners, will lead the field at the Trinidad Alfonso Valencia Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (23).
Jepchumba, the world leader over the distance at 1:05:51, will take on Kenyan compatriot Peres Jepchirchir, the winner at this year’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in the pair's first ever head-to-head battle.
In the men’s race, Abraham Cheroben of Bahrain will be gunning for a third straight title against a quality field.
Jepchirchir aims to stop Jepchumba
Jepchumba, who will celebrate her 26th birthday on race day, is undefeated on the roads this season with four half marathon victories topped by her world-leading performance set in Prague in April which elevated her to third on the world all-time list. She returned to the Czech capital in September to smash her 10km PB in 30:24, the second-fastest performance of all time and just three seconds shy of the world record.
Should Jepchumba show similar form on Sunday, she could threaten her PB which is 42 seconds off Florence Kiplagat’s 1:05:09 world record set in Barcelona last year.
Jepchirchir was crowned world champion over the distance last March in Cardiff in 1:07:31, although her best performance came one month earlier in Ras Al Khaimah where she clocked 1:06:39 to finish fourth, her only loss in six races in 2016. More recently, the 23-year-old won in Usti Nad Labem in 1:07:24.
But defending champion Netsanet Gudeta Kebede of Ethiopia should take advantage of her course knowledge to battle against the Kenyan tandem. Gudeta is also the world cross-country bronze medallist but failed to make the podium at the World Half Marathon Championships where she finished fourth. With such a strong field gathered, the course record of 1:07:31 set by Gudeta last year will be in serious jeopardy.
That fantastic trio will be paced by the experienced pacemaker Marc Roig of Spain, who helped set the rhythm for Kiplagat’s world record run.
Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo (1:08:08) and Kenya’s Gladys Yator (1:08:39) should complete a strong top five.
Cheroben gunning for third straight win
Meanwhile, Cheroben will be targeting a hat-trick of victories in the men’s race.
The course record-holder clocked 58:48 two years ago while a time of 59:10 proved to be enough to successfully defend his title last year.
Cheroben, who began competing for Bahrain in August, made his last appearance at a 10km road race in Utrecht earlier this month, finishing second behind Belgian Bashir Abdi in 28:32. The 23-year-old Cheroben finished 10th at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at 10,000m in a career best of 27:31.86.
Yet the defending champion will face stiff opposition from up to 10 athletes who have run faster than 60 minutes at least once in their careers.
Two of Cheroben’s former compatriots, Kenyans Solomon Kirwa Yego and Stephen Kosgei Kibet, have even broken the 59-minute barrier. Yego is this year’s world leader thanks to a 58:44 performance at the Rome Ostia Half Marathon. Kibet produced a 58:54 clocking in The Hague back in 2012 but he has shown fine form as recently as 18 September when clocking 59:28 for second in Copenhagen.
An outsider to keep an eye on is the in-form Kenyan Barselius Kipyego who has recorded three wins over the distance this year, topped by a huge PB of 59:15 in Usti Nad Labem last month.
Ethiopia’s Guye Adole should also be in the mix for a podium finish. Adole was the bronze medallist at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships thanks to a PB of 59:06, but the 26-year-old has not run faster than 1:03:22 this year. He will be in the company of his fellow Ethiopian Mesfin Alemu (PB of 59:39) who has competed just once this year.
World 10km and 15km record-holder Leonard Patrick Komon (SB of 1:00:48) will also be in contention but the 2008 world cross-country silver medallist should improve dramatically on his last appearance in Copenhagen five weeks ago where he clocked 1:02:50.
The other four men who have ducked under one hour are Kenyans Geoffrey Yegon, Kenneth Keter, Edwin Rotich and Vincent Yator. Trying to maintain a fast pace from the gun will be their countryman Simon Cheprot, the main pacesetter.
A record 13,500 athletes will take part in the event. Women’s entrants have surpassed 3000 for the first time while 2150 athletes come from abroad representing no fewer than 70 countries.
Weather forecasters predict a sunny and windless day with a temperature of about 17C at the start.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF