John Cheruiyot Korir (© IAAF)
Mark Butler takes a look at the leading contenders in Saturday's IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.
It has already been a memorable week for Kenyan runners, starting with Paul Tergat's world marathon record and, tragically, the sad news of the death of Benson Masya, winner of the very first World Half Marathon Championships in 1992.
The week could well end on a high note if Kenya can retain their team title and make amends for a miserable showing in the World Championship marathon.
The 2002 Champion Paul Kosgei was a late withdrawal, but he may not be missed by a squad which includes the current world number 2 and 3, Jackson Koech and Martin Lel. Koech came so near to winning the Great North Run, while Lel has won two other big half marathons in 2003: Lisbon and Virginia Beach. He has the same coach (Gabriele Rosa) as Tergat.
Yusuf Songoka and Paul Kirui (10th last year) will provide good back-up, but they all might be upstaged by Kenyan 10,000m Champion John Cheruiyot Korir, who has the right pedigree to make a big impact in his first championship half marathon.
Ethiopia's and Morocco's biggest guns have stayed at home, so Tanzania's John Yuda may be the only one who can crack the Kenyans. Yuda was third in 2001 and 2002 and will want to do better in what is proving to be his best event. If his compatriots run to form, then Tanzania should be strong contenders for a team medal. Italy and Japan also have good squads.
Leading Contenders (subject to final declarations):
ADERE Dereje ETH 18y pb: 61:59 -03
2003 Ethiopian Half marathon Champion
LAHLALI Abdelghani FRA 26y pb: 62:11 -03
Ex-Morocco ... twice French half Marathon Champion
ANDRIANI Ottaviano ITA 29y pb: 61:40 -03
1997 Florence Marathon winner
OSHIMA Kenta JPN 24y pb: 61:48 -03
2002 Japanese Corporate 10,000m Champion
KIRUI Paul KEN 23y pb: 60:52 -03
10th in 2002 World Half Marathon
KOECH Jackson KEN 24y pb: 60:05 -03
Older brother is Benson Koech, former World Junior Champion at 800m
KORIR John Cheruiyot KEN 21y pb: 62:36 -02
Fifth at 10,000m in 2000 Olympics & 2003 Worlds
LEL Martin KEN 24y pb: 60:10 -03
Third in 2003 Boston Marathon
SONGOKA Yusuf KEN 24y pb: 60:53 -02
Second in 2003 Johannesburg Half marathon
YUDA John TAN 24y pb: 60:02 -02
2002 Commonwealth bronze at 10,000m ... 2002 World Cross Country long
CHIMUSASA Tendai ZIM 32y pb: 60:26 -95
Zimbabwe marathon record holder, 9th in 2000 Olympic marathon ... 1994
Commonwealth 10,000m silver
It will be a major upset if Paula Radcliffe were not to regain the title she won in 2000 and 2001. No-one has got remotely near to her in a road race for more than two years and there is much talk of potential world records at 15K, 20K on route to the full half marathon distance.
With the multi-lap course, we may well be treated to a sight similar to Radcliffe's epic 10,000m win at last year's European Championships, where the British runner lapped most of the field.
All of which is easy to say, but extremely difficult to achieve. One feels that Radcliffe will be happy enough to just win well over this strong field which includes four of the first eight from that wonderful World Championship 10,000m.
Defending Champion Berhane Adere and three-time silver medallist Susan Chepkemei will want to get nearer to the British runner than they did two weeks earlier in South Shields when they finished 1:58 and 2:11 behind Radcliffe's 65:40.
Will anyone try to stay with Radcliffe ?
Constantina Dita-Tomescu is also a brave front runner and will want to make amends for Paris when she dropped out of the marathon after another quick start. She will lead an experienced Romanian squad who will be looking to win the team title for a seventh time. Russia also have a powerful squad including Galina Bogomolova and Alla Zhilyayeva, both of whom have set Russian records at 10,000m this year.
Marla Runyan recently broke the United States record for 20K and looks set to achieve the highest even placing in this event by an athlete from her country.
Leading Contenders (subject to final declarations):
JOHNSON Benita AUS 24y Début
Oceanian record holder at 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m ... 6th-4th-5th at past
three World Cross Country Championships
ADERE Berhane ETH 30y pb: 67:32 -03
Reigning World Champion at Half Marathon, 10,000m & indoor 3000m
RADCLIFFE Paula GBR 29y pb: 65:40 -03
Her 2:15:25 marathon in 2003 regarded by many as the greatest ever
performance seen at any event in the history of women's athletics
CHEPKEMEI Susan KEN 28y pb: 65:44 -02
Three times second in World Half Marathons
KOSGEI Selina KEN 27y pb: 71:16 -03
Surprise 2002 Commonwealth Games Champion at 10,000m, having previously
been best known as an 800m runner
DITA Constantina ROM 33y pb: 68:10 -02
(Married name-Tomescu) ... At 2001 World Championship marathon had a lead
of almost 2 minutes at 20K before being caught by pack at 35K
OLARU Nuta ROM 33y pb: 69:00 -02
Twice World Half Marathon team Champion
OLTEANU Iulia ROM 36y pb: 69:15 -94
Former World road 15K Champion
BIKTASHYOVA Lyudmila RUS 29y pb: 70:31 -01
Twice Russian Champion at 10,000m
BOGOMOLOVA Galina RUS 25y Début
Sixth in 2003 World 10,000m
ZHILYAYEVA Alla RUS 34y pb: 69:43 -98
Broke Russian record when finishing fifth in the 2003 World 10,000m
JAVORNIK Helena SLO 37y pb: 71:03 -03
2002 European Cross Country Champion ... owns all Slovenian records from
One Mile to Marathon
RUNYAN Marla USA 34y pb: 71:19 -02
Winner of three US titles in 2003 ... legally blind