James Mwangi Wangari winning the 2016 Copenhagen Half Marathon (organisers) © Copyright
Preview Copenhagen, Denmark

Mwangi aims to retain Copenhagen Half Marathon title against strong field

There may have been just two previous editions of the Copenhagen Half Marathon, but the IAAF Gold Label road race has already proven itself to be one of the fastest 13.1-mile races in the world.

At its inaugural edition in 2015, Bedan Karoki won the men’s race in what was then a world-leading 59:14, while Purity Rionoripo clocked a swift 1:08:29 to take the women’s title. The bar had been set high, but both course records fell last year with James Mwangi (59:07) and Hiwot Gebrekidan (1:08:00) taking top honours.

At this year’s race on Sunday (17), organisers are hopeful that the course records will once again be rewritten and they have assembled suitably strong fields.

Mwangi returns to the Danish capital to defend his title. His 59:07 clocking last year broke the Danish all-comers’ record that had been set in 2014 when Geoffrey Kamworor won his first world half-marathon title. It was also the fastest mark in the world last year on a record-eligible course, so too were his splits at 10km (27:15), 15km (41:32) and 20km (56:01).

This will be just the fourth half marathon to date for the 23-year-old, who debuted over the distance with a 59:12 victory in Stramilano last year before winning in Copenhagen. He finished second in Lisbon in 1:00:11 back in March, but hasn’t raced since due to a troublesome hamstring.

“I have been struggling with my hamstring this year,” Mwangi said at the pre-race press conference. “I’ve only been able to train since July, so I can't really say how fast I can run tomorrow as my preparation has not been optimal. But, of course, I will run the best I can.”

Mwangi isn’t the fastest in this year’s field. That honour belongs to Bahrain’s Abraham Cheroben, whose lifetime best of 59:48 makes him the fifth-fastest man in history. The 24-year-old’s most recent race was his 12th-place finish over 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships in London, where he set a national record of 27:11.08.

In his only half marathon outing of 2017, he finished third in Yangzhou in 1:00:58. Not only will Cheroben want to improve on his season’s best in Copenhagen, he will also want to place higher than his 11th-place finish from last year.

Based on season’s bests, Geoffrey Yegon is the fastest in the field this year. Like Mwangi and Cheroben, he will be returning to Copenhagen after finishing ninth last year. Since then, the Kenyan has added two more half-marathon victories to his collection, having won in Den Haag and Gothenburg earlier in 2017.

While Yegon will be contesting his 10th half marathon within an 18-month period, compatriot Leonard Barsoton will be making his debut over the distance. But despite being a debutant, the 22-year-old owns some of the best credentials of the field.

He finished second at this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships, having won the hotly contested Kenyan Cross Country Championships one month prior. He is also the 2014 African cross-country champion and took silver in the junior race at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships.

“After my silver medal in Kampala, I decided to try a half marathon,” said Barsoton. “I’m hoping to run sub-60; that would be a good debut."

Alex Oloitiptip has competed in Copenhagen for the past two years but with mixed results. He finished second in 2015 in a PB of 59:28, but after finishing just 10th last year in 1:00:33, he will be keen to return to the podium on Sunday.

“It will be a tough fight and I'm hoping to win,” said Oloitiptip. “After 15 km it depends on the mind. I have been focusing on the race for three months now. If the weather is good, I can run 59:10. Hopefully I will be elected for the Kenyan team at the World Half Marathon Championships. That's my target.”

Like Oloitiptip, Albert Kangogo set his lifetime best in Copenhagen. The 30-year-old Kenyan was third last year in 59:29. Having achieved podium finishes in his three half marathons of 2017, he will want to maintain that record in the Danish capital.

Several other men in the field have previously come within a minute of breaking the one-hour barrier: Kenya’s Eliud Tarus, Jorum Okombo, Edwin Koech, Ezrah Sang, William Kibor, Geoffrey Koech, Eritrea’s Abra Osman and Uganda’s Daniel Rotich.

On what has proven to be a fast course, no doubt all of those will be hopeful of achieving their first sub-60-minute performance on Sunday.

Breakthrough beckons for Kosgei

Brigid Kosgei might be a relative newcomer, but the 23-year-old has already shown flashes of brilliance since making her international racing debut two years ago.

She set a personal best of 2:24:45 when finishing second at last year’s Lisbon Marathon. Five months later, she won the 2017 Verbania Half Marathon in a PB of 1:07:35. If she is able to replicate that form on Sunday, she could not only break the course record of 1:08:00, she could also challenge the Danish all-comers’ record of 1:07:29, set by Gladys Cherono in winning the 2014 world half-marathon title.

“The weather looks to be good tomorrow, so I'm hoping for a course record,” said Kosgei. “Under 68:00 is possible.”

By contrast, fellow Kenyan Pascalia Chepkorir is vastly experienced and her 1:07:17 PB makes her the fastest in the field. That mark was set five years ago, just two months before earning bronze at the World Half Marathon Championships, but she came close to that time last year when finishing third in Yangzhou in 1:07:58.

Eunice Chumba will have plenty of motivation when she returns to Copenhagen on Sunday, having finished second last year in a Bahraini record of 1:08:04, just four seconds adrift of the winner. Since then she has reduced her marathon PB to 2:24:27 when finishing second in Rotterdam and placed 11th at the World Cross Country Championships.

Former 1500m specialist Meskerem Assefa beat Chumba by nine seconds at the Rotterdam Marathon earlier this year, clocking a PB of 2:24:18. The Ethiopian will want to at least take a few seconds off her half marathon PB of 1:09:10, which should get her close to a podium finish.

Joan Chelimo heads to Copenhagen off the back of a PB spree. The 28-year-old Kenyan has this year clocked lifetime bests of 31:24 for 10km, 48:19 for 15km and 1:08:45 for the half marathon.

At 35, Agnes Barsosio is also in the form of her life. She has won half marathons in Ceske Budejovice and Brazzaville this year, but her runner-up finish at the Paris Marathon in a lifetime best of 2:20:59 suggests that her half marathon PB of 1:09:53 is living on borrowed time.

Bahrain’s Desi Jisa Mokonin is the seventh woman in the field with a sub-70-minute PB. The 20-year-old will be contesting her first race since finishing 15th in the 10,000m at the World Championships in London.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF