One year ago, Kenyan Bedan Karoki set the bar exceptionally high in the inaugural edition of the Copenhagen Half Marathon. The Kenyan clocked 59:14, a world-leading performance at the time that would hold up as the second fastest of 2015. Leading a strong field, the 26-year-old returns to the Danish capital for this IAAF Silver Label Road Race on Sunday (18) hoping to raise the bar higher still.
Karoki heads a field that includes no less than 14 men who have dipped under the still formidable one-hour barrier for the distance, promising a contest of exceptional depth and quality. Since his victory last year, Karoki has gone on to take silver at the IAAF World Half Marathon championships where he clocked 59:36, win the World's Best 10K in San Juan in 27:42, until last weekend the fastest time in the world this year, and finish seventh in the 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
"I hope the race will be very fast," Karoki said. "The weather conditions look to be good, and the course in Copenhagen is the best. But it also depends on the pacemakers. I hope they will be good, and I will try to push them."
Karoki said that he suffered some slight injuries in his build-up to Rio that set back his training. "I am in better shape now," he said.
Among those leading the chase will be 22-year-old James Ndirangu Mwangi of Kenya who made an outstanding debut over the distance in March with a 59:12 victory in Milan, the year's third fastest time.
Yigrem Demelash of Ethiopian also commands attention. The 22-year-old arrives five weeks after his fourth place finish in the Olympic 10,000m final, and ending the track season as the event's world leader at 26:51.11. Like Mwangi, he made a notable half marathon debut this year, clocking 59:49 in Venlo, Netherlands, in March.
Others to watch include Abraham Cheroben of Bahrain, tenth in the Rio 10,000m with five sub-on hour performances to his credit, topped by a 58:48 PB from 2014; Kenyan Stephen Kosgei Kibet, who's gone under one hour on four occasions; 24-year-old Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew, with a 59:11 best from 2014; Kenyan Sammy Kitwara, a sub-2:05 marathoner and winner this year in Lisbon clocking 59:47; and Berhanu Legesse of Ethiopia, the 2015 winner in New Delhi in 59:20 and this year's winner in Ras Al Khaimah. The field also includes Kenyan Leonard Patrick Komon who's held the world records of 26:44 and 41:13 for the 10km and 15km, respectively, since autumn of 2010.
Nine under 70 minutes in the women's field
Fastest in the women's field is 23-year-old Kenyan Gladys Chesir. The 23-year-old finished sixth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in March, six weeks after notching her 1:06:57 personal best at the RAK Half in Ras Al Khaimah.
"I have trained good lately and have no injuries," Chesir said. "There are many other strong women here, so I hope that we can break the course record."
Chesir is one of nine women in the field who have career bests under the 70-minute mark, credentials to certainly challenge the 1:08:29 course record set by Purity Cherotich Rionoripo last year.
Rose Chelimo of Bahrain returns to action after her eighth place finish in the Rion 2016 Olympic Games marathon five weeks ago. The 27-year-old is enjoying the best year of her career, having notched personal best in the half marathon and marathon, 1:08:08 in Ras Al Khaimah and 2:24:14 in Seoul in March.
Ethiopian Sutume Asefa Kebede returns after her runner-up finish last year in 1:08.23, still the 22-year-old's career best. In January, Kebede made a promising marathon debut, clocking 2:24:00 for fourth in Dubai.
Her compatriots Gutena Imana, Tsehay Desalegn Adhane and 20-year-old Dibaba Kuma, who have both run 1:09:21 or better, could also play a role.
Others to watch include Kenyan Pauline Wanjiku, who holds a 1:09:06 personal best and who won two of the three half marathons she's contested this year, and Eunice Chumba of Bahrain, the Asian short course cross country champion who clocked 1:09:55 this year.
The race will be streamed live starting at 11:00 local (GMT+2) at cphhalf.com.
Bob Ramsak and organisers for the IAAF