Violah Jepchumba crosses the line to win the Prague Half Marathon (© Giancarlo Colombo / organisers)
Kenya’s Violah Jepchumba carved almost four minutes off her personal best when taking victory at the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon on Sunday morning (2), an IAAF Gold Label Road Race. The 26-year-old came home in 1:05:51, the fourth fastest time in history on a record-eligible course.
On what was a calm, cool day in the Czech capital, the men’s race was won in equally convincing fashion by Daniel Wanjiru, the Kenyan overcoming a mid-race fall to take victory in 59:20 in a race where the top five athletes finished within 60 minutes.
But it was the unheralded Jepchumba who stole the show with her breakthrough performance. The 26-year-old came into the race as an outsider, holding a best of just 1:09:29, but she had announced herself as a potential star when taking victory over several established Kenyan internationals at the Discovery Cross Country in Eldoret back in January.
When the gun fired on Sunday morning, Jepchumba made her intentions clear from the outset, charging through the first 5km in a blistering 15:05 and reaching 10km with a 30-metre lead in 30:29, both splits well ahead of schedule to break Florence Kiplagat’s world record of 1:05:07.
However, despite enjoying a solo run to victory through the latter half, Jepchumba soon began to pay for her exertions, and was slowing considerably when she passed 15km in 46:20.
Though it was clear the world record would have to wait for another day, Jepchumba held it together well in the final kilometres to come home in 1:05:51, which broke Joyce Chepkirui’s course record of 1:06:18 and moved Jepchumba to third on the world all-time list behind Kiplagat (1:05:07) and Mary Keitany (1:05:50).
"I was hoping to run maybe 68," said Jepchumba. "If I had a pacemaker, I would have been able to run 65:10."
Behind Jepchumba, last year’s champion Worknesh Degefa set an Ethiopian record of 1:06:14, the Rome-Ostia half marathon champion having to settle for second on this occasion. Kenya’s Gladys Japkemoi Yator took more than two minutes off her personal best to take third in 1:08:39.
Wanjiru repeats with late surge
The men’s race proved a much closer affair, with 13 men passing the 10km mark in 28:14, led by Kenya’s Geoffrey Kimutai Koech. By 15km, reached in 42:26, that group had been whittled to nine, with last year’s champion Daniel Wanjiru beginning to take closer order at the front after recovering from his fall, which occurred shortly after the 7km mark.
"When you are a sportsman you expect pain on race day," said Wanjiru. "It was my misfortune to fall down, but it happened."
Wanjiru made his move shortly after the 18km mark, surging clear of compatriot Barselius Kipyego and going through 20km in 56:19 with a seven-second lead. Try as he might, it was a gap Kipyego simply couldn’t bridge over the final mile, and Wanjiru crossed the line in 59:20 to smash his personal best and retain the title for the first time in the 18-year history of the race.
"I was confident in my finish," said Wanjiru. "It was my personal best to date and I am very happy with the race."
Kipyego held on for second in 59:30, with Ethiopia’s Adugna Takele fending off Kenya’s Nobert Kipkoech Kigen to take third in 59:40.
The home challenge was led by Jiri Homolac, who took almost two minutes off his personal best to run 1:03:50. Eva Vrabcova, who is a winter Olympian at cross country skiing, was the first Czech athlete home in the women's race, running 1:11:06.
Cathal Dennehy and organisers for the IAAF
1 Violah Jepchumba (KEN) 1:05:51
2 Worknesh Degefa (ETH) 1:06:14
3 Gladys Japkemoi Yator (KEN) 1:08:39
4 Lucy Karimi (KEN) 1:08:43
5 Isabella Ochichi (KEN) 1:09:03
1 Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 59:20
2 Barselius Kipyego (KEN) 59:30
3 Adugna Takele (ETH) 59:40
4 Nobert Kipkoech Kigen (KEN) 59:42
5 Peter Cheruiyot Kirui (KEN) 59:50