Stephen Kiprotich, Mary Keitany and Wilson Kipsang ahead of the Olomouc Half Marathon (© Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon)
Two of the world’s best distance runners will face each other over the 13.1 miles for the first time at the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon as Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich takes on former world marathon record-holder Wilson Kipsang at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race Saturday (19).
But it’s highly likely that the highlight of tomorrow evening’s event will come from the women’s race when Kenyan superstar Mary Keitany makes her Czech debut.
These three outstanding athletes face tough opposition and success will be far from guaranteed. In the men’s field another nine runners have personal bests faster than 62 minutes. Alongside Mary Keitany will be half a dozen women who have run faster than 70 minutes.
“You don’t often see these three superstars compete in one race,” said Carlo Capablo, president of the organising team. “This happens in London or New York, but now we have them in Olomouc – I am super excited.”
Kiprotich, the world and Olympic marathon champion, will be running his first half marathon of the year and only his second competition in 2015. The 26-year-old showed strong form at the Tokyo Marathon in February, finishing second and improving his own Ugandan record by 47 seconds to 2:06:33.
The half marathon in Olomouc will be an important test of his form as he builds towards the defence of his title at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 in August. “I have been preparing for Beijing, that is why I did not race in the past few months,” said Kiprotich, who has a half-marathon PB of 1:01:15.
This will be the first time that Kiprotich and Kipsang have run against each other in a half marathon. So far they have raced each other five times and Kiprotich has come out on top only once – but that was in the Olympic marathon in London in 2012 when he overtook long-time leader Kipsang to achieve a surprise victory with Kipsang finishing third. In their subsequent marathon encounters in London (2013 and 2014) and New York (2014), Kiprotich has lost.
Kipsang is usually the stronger over the half marathon compared to Kiprotich, who is more of a marathon specialist. The Kenyan’s best for the half marathon is 58:59, which makes him the fastest runner in the field for Olomouc.
But Kipsang was the clear favourite a year ago yet was beaten by one of his training partners, Geoffrey Ronoh, who emerged a surprise winner with a course record of 1:00:17.
This year Ronoh has had to withdraw because of injury but there is another fast Kenyan in the field. Jonathan Maiyo has a best of 59:02, only three seconds slower than Kipsang’s PB.
“I really enjoyed last year’s race in Olomouc, so I was happy to come back,” said Kipsang. “This time I am back to win and I am ready. The race on Saturday will also be a test for the World Championships marathon in August in Beijing. After Olomouc I will focus on that race.”
Keitany is the outstanding athlete in the women’s field. The second fastest ever at the half marathon with a best of 65:50, which was the world record until last year, Keitany has recently shown the kind of recent form which suggests an impressive performance.
The 33-year-old ran 31:15 to win the New York 10km in warm conditions and she has already produced world class form in the half marathon with 1:06:02 to win in Ras Al Khaimah in February. Given favourable weather conditions, Mary Keitany could break the course record of 1:08:53, set by the double world champion Edna Kiplagat last year.
“I am ready and hope for a good race,” said Keitany, who did not want to predict any times.
The race will be far from a time trial for Keitany; her strongest rivals are likely to be fellow Kenyans. Helah Kiprop arrives in Olomouc with a best time of 1:07:39, while Rose Chelimo is unbeaten this year. The 26-year-old recently achieved her fourth half marathon win of the year, taking the title at the Mattoni Ceske Budejovice event in 1:12:01 in torrid conditions. On Saturday Chelimo could challenge the 1:08:22 PB she set when winning in Lisbon earlier this year.
Organisers for the IAAF
Elite field (with PBs)
Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 58:59
Jonathan Maiyo (KEN) 59:02
Nicholas Bor (KEN) 1:00:09
Felix Kandie (KEN) 1:00:42
Atalay Yirsaw (ETH) 1:00:59
Cosmas Birech (KEN) 1:01:05
Gladwin Mzazi (RSA) 1:01:12
Stephen Kiprotich (KEN) 1:01:15
Polat Kemboi Arikan (TUR) 1:01:22
Josphat Kiptis (KEN) 1:01:23
Kenta Matsumuto (JPN) 1:01:55
Mary Keitany (KEN) 1:05:50
Helah Kiprop (KEN) 1:07:39
Rose Chelimo (KEN) 1:08:22
Atsedu Habtamu (ETH) 1:08:29
Mulu Seboka (ETH) 1:09:11
Angela Tanui (KEN) 1:09:14
Viola Jelagat (KEN) 1:09:27
Alyson Dixon (GBR) 1:10:38
Eunice Chumba (BRN) 1:10:46
Yuka Takemoto (JPN) 1:11:11
Lucy Karimi (KEN) 1:11:23