After outkicking a trio of Kenyans for the world 10,000m title in Beijing last summer, Mo Farah commented: “it felt like it was me against the whole team”. The Brit is expected to come under a similar onslaught at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff.
The Kenyans have been ramping up the rhetoric in the build-up and reigning champion Geoffrey Kamworor has even talked about using this race as a platform to challenge the world record of 58:23 if the conditions on race day meet his liking.
The predicted heavy rain and strong winds might get in the way of any record attempts, but if recent history is anything to go by, the race is still expected to be fast.
Kamworor is joined on the Kenyan team by Bedan Karoki with whom he worked in tandem to shake off the Ethiopians at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 and shared the pace over 10,000m in Beijing last summer.
Farah has seldom – if ever – been put under such sustained pressure in a track final and the Kenyans will be buoyed by the fact they have double the distance on Saturday to run the finish out of him, but Farah has proved he is a capable performer at the distance, regardless of how the race is run.
The Brit has won the past two editions of the Great North Run by holding on to a fast pace before launching his famed sprint. He further demonstrated his racing nous at the Lisbon Half Marathon last spring where he was content to run some 100 metres off an ambitious pace before coming from behind to win in 59:32.
While Farah will be looking to become the first ever British winner of the men’s race, Kamworor will be aiming to become the first athlete since Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese in 2009 to win back-to-back titles at the event.
However, Karoki has also quietly chalked up a brilliant record on the roads and could claim his first global title after a near miss in Guiyang last year when he finished second to Kamworor. Karoki is unbeaten at 10km and the half marathon and has broken the one-hour mark three times for the longer distance.
But while Farah and Kamworor have been preparing specifically for this race, Karoki might not have been afforded the luxury of easing off the mileage too much as he is preparing for his marathon debut in London next month.
The rest of the Kenyan team is made up of Simon Cheprot, Edwin Kipyego and Edwin Kiptoo, all of whom have PBs of 59:30 or quicker and will be looking to prise the team title away from Eritrea.
The Eritreans packed superbly two years ago with their five counters all finishing in the top eight but they might struggle to defend their crown with individual silver medallist Samuel Tsegay plus world record-holder Zersenay Tadese and world marathon champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie – who finished fourth and seventh respectively in Copenhagen – among the absentees.
But the Eritrean team on show in Cardiff is far from weak and with a team boasting lifetime bests ranging from 59:39 to 1:01:39, they will still contend for another team medal. The fastest runner on their team is Nguse Amlosom, who finished fifth in Copenhagen.
The Ethiopians have also sent a strong team which is led by 2014 individual bronze medallist Guye Adola, who won the trial race held in Spain last month. The 25-year-old has a lifetime best of 59:06 which he set at the 2014 New Delhi Half Marathon where he handed Kamworor a rare defeat over the distance.
Adola is joined by 2014 ninth-place finisher Adugna Takele, world cross-country sixth-place finisher Tamirat Tola, and Mule Wasihun, who finished fifth at this year’s Dubai Marathon in 2:05:44.
A solid Japanese team is led by 20-year-old Keijiro Mogi, who was the top domestic finisher at last month’s Marugame Half Marathon, the trial race for Cardiff, in 1:00:54.
Meanwhile, the US team is helmed by Jared Ward, who sealed his ticket for the Rio Olympics by finishing third at the US Olympic Marathon Trials behind Galen Rupp and Meb Keflezighi.
Steven Mills for the IAAF