Zersenay Tadese and Leonard Patrick Komon will face off in a rare road-racing clash at the 2nd Vodafone Istanbul Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday (24).
Tadese, from Eritrea, set the world record in the half marathon in 2010, clocking 58:23. Komon meanwhile set the world records at both 10km (26:44) and 15km (41:13) that same year. Istanbul will mark the first time that the two will meet over the half marathon distance.
“It is a nice challenge to run against a great athlete like him with great world records in the 10km and 15km," said Tadese, who has won four world half marathon titles, and six overall. Tadese owns history’s two fastest half marathon performances and is also the only man to have covered the distance in under 59 minutes three times.
Komon is also relishing the contest over Istanbul’s fast, flat course.
“Of course this will be a big challenge,” said the 28-year-old Kenyan, whose 59:14 personal best from 2012 remains the fastest debut over the distance.
A serious bout of the flu in February kept Tadese from chasing a seventh world title at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships last month but now, he said, he’s back to full strength and eager to make his 2016 debut. In his last appearance, he clocked 59:24 at the New Delhi Half Marathon in November.
Both runners have focused their recent training on the half marathon and confirmed that they’re targeting sub-60 minute performances in Istanbul. Komon, who finished fifth in the Lisbon Half Marathon last month, clocking 1:01:30, said this race fits perfectly into his designs to join the half marathon’s sub-59 club in 2016. “59:14 is not my final station,” he said.
“The city and the people are very excited to host two world record holders,” said Veli Ozan Cakir, the Director of Sporting Events for the Municipality of Istanbul and the head of the event’s organising committee.
“As this is the first time that they will compete in the same half marathon race, we are very proud, and also all local media have high expectations for a world record or a very close race. We hope thousands of people will be on the streets to support the athletes in this unique competition,” Cakir added.
Tadese and Komon won’t be the only runners eyeing victory. Kenyan Kenneth Kipkemoi comes armed with a 59:01 best from 2014, one of six occasions he's run under 60 minutes. Most recently he took runner-up honours in Lisbon where he ran 1:00:05.
Faster still this year is 25-year-old Leonard Langat who clocked 59:18 at the Rome-Ostia Half Marathon on March 13 to finish second. Titus Mbishei, with 59:55 credentials from 2014, returns after his fourth place showing here last year and could also challenge.
World leader Jepchumba takes on Amane
The winners at last year's inaugural edition set a solid foundation for the event, with Kenyan Evans Kiplagat taking the men's title in 1:00:13 and Gladys Cherono, also from Kenya, the women's in 1:06:38, a performance which would go on to be the fourth fastest of 2015.
That women's course record could also come under attack given the current form of Kenyan Violah Jepchumba and Amane Gobena from Ethiopia.
The 25-year-old Jepchumba clocked 1:05:51 to win the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon on April 2, the fastest time in the world this year. For her part, Gobena improved her career best in the marathon to 2:21:51 in Tokyo in late February, where she finished fourth.
"I am very happy to return to Istanbul to race once again in a city I am so familiar with and have had so much success in,” said Amane, who won the Istanbul Marathon twice and finished second on another occasion. “I am in very good shape this year and I hope to continue showing this great shape and running a new personal best time as well in the half marathon now.”
Others to watch include Meskerem Assefa of Ethiopia who has a 1:09:10 best and Olena Burkovska of Ukraine, the 2013 Hannover Marathon winner.
“We’ve not only managed to arrange a great face-off between two world record holders, but we’ve also attracted a very strong field who have heard about Istanbul’s flat and fast course,” said Hussein Makke, the Elite Athlete Coordinator for the event. “With good conditions on Sunday, which we’re expecting, both course records could fall, making the race one of the year’s fastest.”
The scenic loop course begins and ends along the edge of the Bosporus in the city's historical Sirkeci quarter, famous as the terminus of the legendary Orient Express, and follows the coastline of the famous Golden Horn waterway before turning back. The forecast calls for good conditions, with a start time temperature of 17 C and partly cloudy skies. Organisers are expecting 7500 runners for the 08:45 start.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF