Pascalia Kipkoech at the IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships Cardiff 2016 (© Jiro Mochizuki)
Pascalia Kipkoech and Morris Muene Gachaga will be hoping to make it another Kenyan double at the fourth edition of the Okpekpe International 10km Road Race, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Saturday (7).
Kenyan double victories have come in two of the previously held three editions. While defending champions Alex Oloitiptip Korio and Angela Tanui are not returning, Kipkoech and Gachaga look good bets to follow in the footsteps of their compatriots who won the top prizes in the 2015 edition.
Kipkoech has a personal best of 30:57 and is in the all-time top 20 for the event. Although that time came four years ago, she showed she was in good form recently, firstly winning the Casablanca 10km in early March in 31:14 and then going on to finish seventh at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships later the same month.
The 28-year-old could erase the course record set by Ethiopia’s Wude Ayalew in 2014, when she won in 32:41 to also set a Nigerian all-comers' record.
Kipkoech should still be challenged though, primarily by her Kenyan compatriots; Esther Ndiema and Pauline Wanjiku Njeru, the latter having two good quality half marathon wins to her name in Spain this year, including in Madrid last month.
Kenya recorded a clean sweep in the women’s race last year and they may do same again provided they can see off an Ethiopian challenge led by Buzunesh Gudeta who ran 31:21 to finish behind Kipkoech in Casablanca.
In 2014, Kenya’s Teshome Mekonnen ran 28:35 to set the men’s course record and that will be the target on Saturday.
Gachaga, 31, ran a personal best of 27:27 for second place in Casablanca and emulated Wanjiku Njeru with a win at the Madrid Half Marathon before improving his half marathon best to 1:00:46 when finishing fourth at the Yangzhou Half Marathon two weeks ago.
Among Gachaga’s rivals will be his fellow Kenyan Edwin Kiptoo, who was ninth at the World Half Marathon Championships and can boast of a best of 59:26 for this distance.
Ethiopia’s Mesfin Alemu Hunegnaw and Kenya’s Simon Cheprot could also be a factor in Saturday’s race.
Last year, the Okpekpe International 10km Road Race became the first road race in West Africa to earn an IAAF Road Race Label.
The Okpekpe Race route meanders over hills and sandy paths. Although the course alone is testing enough, the weather conditions for race day are expected to top 30C with the potential for scattered thunderstorms.
More than 3000 runners, including elite athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, are expected to take part in the race.
Tunde Eludini for the IAAF