Kenyan marathon runner Wilson Kipsang (© Getty Images)
The spotlight will fall clearly on Wilson Kipsang at the Mattoni Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Saturday (3).
With victories in Berlin, London, New York and Tokyo to his credit, Kipsang is one of the most celebrated marathoners of recent years. A former world record holder over the classic distance with a lifetime best of 2:03:13, the 35-year-old is still illustrating exceptional form, most recently with his 2:03:58 victory at February's Tokyo Marathon, the fourth sub-2:04 run of his extraordinary career. That's a feat no other marathoner has accomplished.
He's hardly a slouch over the half marathon distance, with a 58:59 personal best making him one of just 13 men who have dipped under 59 minutes.
He hasn't approached that 2009 performance since, and, facing several runners on Saturday who have, suggests that his first outing in the Czech Republic since 2014 will be anything but an exhibition.
Among those challengers is 22-year-old Kenyan Justus Kangogo who improved to 59:41 at the Rome-Ostia Half Marathon in March. Henry Kiplagat, the runner-up here last year in 1:00:52, returns
Other runners from the Kenyan ranks include Abraham Akopesha Kasongor who will bring 1:00:25 credentials from 2015 to the start line and Kennedy Kipyego, whose 1:00:49 best was also set two years ago.
Also watch out for Geoffrey Ronoh, who, competing as a pacemaker at the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon in 2014, went on to defeat Kipsang and win the race.
A mark in the back of each runner's mind will be the race record of 59:49 set by Daniel Chebii in 2012.
Kabuu vs Chesire in the women's contest
In the women's race, Kenyan Lucy Kabuu is considered one of the favourites.
The 33-year-old veteran of several Kenyan national teams has a 1:06:09 lifetime best from 2013, is a member of the still-exclusive sub-2:20 women's marathon club with a 2:19:34 best from 2012, and more recently finished fourth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 2014. Ceske Budejovice will mark her first start of the year.
On current form, her compatriot Rebecca Chesire also ranks among the women to beat. The 25-year-old has performed well in 2017, clocking 1:09:01 for fourth at Rome-Ostia in March, six weeks before a 2:24:25 personal best at the Vienna Marathon where she finished second.
The field also includes Japanese rising star Ayaka Fujimoto. Still just 19, Fujimoto notched personal best at both the half marathon and marathon in February, clocking 1:11:00 in Yamaguchi and 2:27:08 in Tokyo, finishing third and fourth respectively.
As in the men's race, the women's race record is also a target. In a largely solo effort, Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia set the women's standard last year with a 1:10:40 run.
Bob Ramsak and organisers for the IAAF