Fancy Chemutai on her way to winning the RAK Half Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)
The top three men from last year’s Birell Prague Grand Prix will return to the IAAF Gold Label road race on Saturday (8) while Fancy Chemutai, last year’s runner-up, headlines the women’s contest.
The 10km race in the Czech capital 12 months ago was one for the ages. Joyciline Jepkosgei smashed the world record in the women’s race while Benard Kimeli led a Kenyan sweep of the men’s podium. It was the first time in history that three men had finished inside 27:20 in the same 10km race.
Defending champion Kimeli, who won last year’s Birell Grand Prix in 27:10, returned to Prague earlier this year for the half marathon, which he won in a PB of 59:47.
Compatriot Rhonex Kipruto, third in Prague last year in 27:13, improved on that mark in April with his 27:08 victory in New York, recording the fastest performance in the world at that distance for eight years. Since then, he won the 10,000m title at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 with a dominant run.
Mathew Kimeli finished second to Kipruto in New York in 27:19, just eight seconds shy of the PB he set when finishing in the same position at last year’s Birell Grand Prix when he separated Benard Kimeli and Kipruto.
If anyone is to break up the Kenyan dominance this year, Ethiopia’s Andamlak Belihu looks to be the most capable of doing so. He won over 10km in Ottawa in a PB of 27:48, finishing 34 seconds ahead of Benard Kimeli, and went on to take the 10,000m silver medal at the African Championships. Still a teenager, Belihu finished 10th in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 at the age of 18.
Britain’s Luke Traynor won against an all-European line-up at the Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon earlier this year, but will face much stiffer opposition on Saturday. He improved his 10km PB to 28:31 in what was essentially a solo effort at a low-key race in June, so will be looking to improve on that mark on Prague’s speedy course.
Germany’s European Cup winner Richard Ringer and Belgium’s Soufiane Bouchiki should also be in line for lifetime bests, having reduced their respective 10,000m PBs to 27:36.52 and 27:41.20 this year.
Twelve months on from hosting the first women’s sub-30-minute performance in history, organisers of the Birell Prague Grand Prix are hopeful that the Czech capital’s streets could once again see another similarly swift run.
Last year’s winner Jepkosgei won’t defend her title, but 2017 runner-up Fancy Chemutai will be back. The Kenyan clocked 30:06 last year, moving her to third on the world all-time list. She went on to set a half marathon PB of 1:05:36 in Valencia and reduced that mark to 1:04:52 – just one second shy of the world record – to win at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon earlier this year.
Chemutai’s only performance since then has been a comfortable 1:09:38 half marathon victory in Zwolle.
Caroline Kipkirui, meanwhile, has had a busy 2018 campaign. She finished third behind Chemutai at the Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon in a PB of 1:05:07 and finished second at the Prague Half Marathon two months later in 1:06:09, passing through 10km in a PB of 30:28.
She then turned her attention to the track, clocking a world-leading PB of 8:29.05 to win the 3000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha. More recently she convincingly won the Falmouth Road Race in the USA and then placed fourth in the 5000m at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich 11 days later.
Dorcas Tuitoek’s name isn’t quite as familiar as her fellow Kenyans, but she heads to Prague off the back of strong victories in Paderborn and Oelde, clocking 31:00 and 31:26 respectively.
The presence of compatriot Mary Munanu will make a Kenyan sweep of the podium even more likely. The 21-year-old has a PB of 31:20 and a best this year of 31:34.
Most of the Czech fans lining the streets in Prague will be there to support Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova. The 32-year-old former cross-country skier took bronze in the marathon at the recent European Championships, clocking a national record of 2:26:31. Given that was less than a month ago, she might not yet be fully recovered, but she’ll be keen to get close to her 10km PB of 33:01 as part of her preparation for the New York City Marathon later this year.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
Rhonex Kipruto (KEN) 27:08
Benard Kimeli (KEN) 27:10
Mathew Kimeli (KEN) 27:11
Andamlak Belihu (ETH) 27:48
Luke Traynor (GBR) 28:31
Soufiane Bouchiki (BEL) 28:51
Jakub Zemanik (CZE) 29:10
Richard Ringer (GER) 29:11
Fancy Chemutai (KEN) 30:06
Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui (KEN) 30:28
Dorcas Jepchirchir Tuitoek (KEN) 31:00
Mary Waitira Munanu (KEN) 31:20
Sarah van der Wielen-Lahti (SWE) 31:57
Yuka Takashima (JPN) 32:29
Emelia Gorecka (GBR) 32:39.37 (track)
Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova (CZE) 33:01
Petra Kaminkova (CZE) 33:38
Moira Stewartova (CZE) 33:41