Sheila Chepkirui breaks 30 minutes at the Birell Prague 10k (© Organisers)
When it became clear that it wouldn’t be possible to hold the Birell Grand Prix in Prague, organisers of the World Athletics Gold Label road race set about creating an alternative event. After much planning, RunCzech has been given the green light to stage the Prague 21.1km, an invitation-only elite half marathon on a looped circuit in Letna Park in the Czech capital on 5 September.
Thirty-five of the world’s best road runners will be in action on Saturday morning, running 16-and-a-half laps of the 1280m course. The women’s race will start at 6:20am local time, and then the men’s race will begin at 8:00am. The event will be broadcast live on Czech Television and on the RunCzech YouTube channel.
It is hoped that the flat course and intense competition will lead to fast times. The Czech all-comers’ records stand at 58:47 for men and 1:04:52 for women. As the women’s race is being held separate from the men’s, they may also have their eye on breaking the women-only world record of 1:06:11.
Peres Jepchirchir, the 2016 world half marathon champion, leads the women's field. The 26-year-old Kenyan set a world record of 1:05:06 – which has since been broken – back in 2017, then became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter later that year. She returned to form in 2019, winning the Lisbon Half Marathon in 1:06:54.
Sheila Chepkirui may have the slowest official PB of the field, but that’s largely due to the fact she has contested just one half marathon to date and it was at altitude in Nairobi. Given her record at other distances – including her two sub-30-minute clockings for 10km, one of which was in Prague – the 29-year-old Kenyan will be one of the big favourites this weekend.
Ethiopia’s 2015 world 5000m silver medallist Senbere Teferi and Kenya’s Edith Chelimo are the two other sub-66-minute runners in the women’s field.
Joan Melly Chelimo and Netsanet Gudeta had originally been set to compete, but both are late withdrawals due to injury.
With nine sub-60-minute performers, the men’s field is also of an extremely high standard.
Stephen Kiprop finished third in Prague last year, just two months after clocking a lifetime best of 58:42 to win the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon. He stands equal sixth on the world all-time list, but he’ll be up against Kibiwott Kandie, another sub-59-minute runner, and two-time Prague winner Benard Kimeli.
Kandie won this year’s Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in a world-leading 58:58, just six days after winning the highly competitive Kenyan cross-country title. Kimeli, who won in Prague in 2018 and 2019, turned to track racing in July and was rewarded with a 5000m PB of 13:16.61.
Others in the field with the potential for a top-three finish include Ethiopia’s two-time Delhi Half Marathon winner Andamlak Belihu, 59:28 performer Philemon Kiplimo and fellow Kenyan Abel Kipchumba.
“The pandemic has deprived these great athletes of the chance to participate in races all across the world,” said Carlo Capalbo, president of the organising committee. “We wanted to find a way of doing something spectacular for everyone. While this race is coming at what would normally be the end of the season, we hope in a way that it will be the start, a spark that gets race organisers all over the world thinking creatively about how to keep the sport alive.”
Stephen Kiprop (KEN) 58:42
Kibiwott Kandie (KEN) 58:58
Benard Kimeli (KEN) 59:07
Andamlak Belihu (ETH) 59:10
Philemon Kiplimo (KEN) 59:28
Abel Kipchumba (KEN) 59:29
Amos Kurgat (KEN) 59:37
Lucas Kimeli Rotich (KEN) 59:44
Alfred Chelal Barkach (KEN) 59:46
Henry Rono (KEN) 1:00:04
Meshack Kiprop Koech (KEN) 1:00:07
Felix Kipkoech (KEN) 1:00:12
Kennedy Kimutai (KEN) 1:00:21
Evans Kipkorir (KEN) 1:00:26
Bethwell Biwott (KEN) 1:00:57
Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) 1:05:06
Senbere Teferi (ETH) 1:05:32
Edith Chelimo (KEN) 1:05:52
Dorcas Kimeli (KEN) 1:07:10
Vibian Chepkirui (KEN) 1:09:28
Sheila Chepkirui (KEN) 1:11:51