Mary Wacera Ngugi at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships (© Getty Images)
The Kenyan women achieved an unprecedented feat at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen by filling the top five places. With a close to full-strength team in Cardiff, Kenya is expected to dominate proceedings in a similar manner this time around.
The team might not be laden with household names, but they boast lifetime bests ranging from 1:06:04 to 1:07:17. All but one of the quintet have set their lifetime bests in the build-up to these championships with three of the team setting those times at the prestigious race in Ras Al Khaimah which more or less acted as a de facto trial race for Cardiff.
The winner on that day was Cynthia Limo, one of the most consistent and prolific road racers in recent years. The 26-year-old secured a place on her first Kenyan team by stopping the clock in one of the fastest times in history of 1:06:04 to defeat 2014 world half marathon champion Gladys Cherono, who has elected to forego her title defence in order to focus on the London Marathon next month.
But despite being among select company on the world all-time lists with only Mary Keitany (1:05:50) and Florence Kiplagat (1:05:09) ahead of her, Limo doesn’t have sole ownership on the mantle of pre-race favourite.
In another fast race at the start of the season, Limo had to settle for second at the Houston Half Marathon – 1:06:29 to 1:06:41 – behind Mary Wacera, who set a North American all-comers’ record in that race.
Wacera took the individual silver medal behind Cherono two years ago and such is the strength in depth in Kenyan distance running, the 27-year-old is the only returning member of the team which swept the board in Copenhagen.
The remainder of the Kenyan team comprises Peris Chepchirchir, Gladys Chesire and Paskalia Kipkoech.
Jepchirchir and Chesire placed fourth and fifth in Ras Al Khaimah in 1:06:39 and 1:06:58 respectively while Kipkoech, who is the most experienced of the quintet with a bronze medal dating back to 2012, holds the world-leading mark at 10km with 31:14.
While the Kenyans have chosen a team comprised of their fastest runners, the Ethiopians have opted to send a fairly inexperienced team, but their squad does include two returning top-10 finishers from two years ago.
Their best chance of an individual medal will fall on the shoulders of Genet Yalew, who finished 10th in Copenhagen. The 23-year-old, who has won international medals at youth and junior level, broke up the Kenyan hegemony in Ras Al Khaimah by finishing third where she shaved nearly two minutes off her lifetime best to claim the Ethiopian record in 1:06:26.
Yalew is joined on the Ethiopian team by Netsanet Gudeta, who finished sixth in Copenhagen but improved to a bronze at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015. The remaining team members aren’t expected to feature too prominently although it is worth noting that Meseret Hailu was plucked from obscurity in 2012 to claim the title in Kavarna.
Individual medals are likely to be decided between the Kenyans and Ethiopians but the Japanese arrive with a team of five runners with lifetime bests ranging from 1:09:41 to 1:10:25. Led by Miho Shimizu and Yumeki Waku, the Japanese are expected to pack well again and challenge for another team medal.
Japan has only claimed three individual medals at the World Half Marathon Championships but have won 16 team medals since the championships was first hosted in 1992.
The USA has also sent an experienced team including the likes of Sara Hall, Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and Kellyn Taylor. A team medal isn’t necessarily beyond their capabilities but the one sizeable caveat is their team is comprised almost solely of athletes who ran at the Olympic Marathon Trials which were staged in hot conditions in Los Angeles just six weeks ago.
The British team was initially led by Gemma Steel but the 30-year-old, who finished seventh at the 2012 edition and boasts a lifetime best of 1:08:13, has been forced to withdraw due to a chest infection. With Steel sidelined, the hosts’ hopes are led by Alyson Dixon, who finished inside the top 20 two years ago in a PB of 1:10:38.
Other potential top-10 finishers include Australians Eloise Wellings and Milly Clark, Canada’s Lanni Marchant and Italy’s Anna Incerti.
Steven Mills for the IAAF