For the second week in succession on the Czech roads, Kenya’s 21-year-old Peris Jepchirchir has delivered proof of her remarkable talent in IAAF Gold Label Road Race events, this time winning the Mattoni Usti nad Labem Half Marathon in 1:07:17 on Saturday (12).
Following in the footsteps of her world-leading 10km in 30:55 in Prague a week ago, Jepchirchir clocked the seventh fastest time in the world this year to break the women’s record by more than two minutes, the previous record being 1:09:08 by her compatriot Josephine Chepkoech two years ago.
For good measure, the Iten-based runner improved her personal best by almost two minutes.
Jepchirchir confessed afterwards that she would have been happy to run 68 minutes but once the mayor of Usti nad Labem, Vera Nebychova, had fired the starting gun, Jepchirchir displayed the same direct approach that had served her so well in the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10km the week before: run hard and let the opposition worry.
Her compatriot Linah Cheruto was briefly in attendance as Jepchirchir went through 5km in 15:32. With Cheruto one second adrift, Jepchirchir just kept on running as remorselessly as ever.
The 10km checkpoint was passed in 31:48, with Jepchirchir 42 seconds inside the course record pace.
By 15km, the clock showed 47:32 and she was still flying, more than a minute inside the required target and the question was not whether the course record would be broken, but by how much.
After crossing the line, she gave credit to her training partner and role model when she was a schoolgirl, former half marathon world record-holder Mary Keitany.
“When I was in school, I ran track and I read about Mary and her achievements," said Jepchirchir. "I’m still surprised to think that I train with her, I learn from her and I am now running these times. I didn’t expect to run 67 but hoped for 68 minutes today."
Jepchirchir added that this was her last road race of the season. Her attention will switch to gaining a place on the Kenyan Olympic team for the 10,000m in Rio next year.
Bahrain's Shitaye Eshete finished a distant second in 1:10:14 on her half marathon debut while Cheruto was third in 1:10:48.
Merhawi Kesete of Eritrea sprang a surprise to win the men's title, beating better-known rivals with a winning time of 1:00:58, 20 seconds outside the course record.
Kenyan pair Barselius Kipyego and Eliah Tirop were second and third in 1:00:59 and 1:01:12 respectively.
With just over two kilometres remaining, the three men who eventually filled the podium positions were bunched together, Kesete taking his turn to push the pace with Kipyego, while Tirop was a stride behind.
At one kilometre remaining, Tirop had drifted slightly away from the leading pair. Having taken third in the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10km the week before, Kipyego might have been expected to have the required finishing speed but, instead, it was Kesete who produced a final surge for a narrow win.
Men’s race favourite Daniel Chebii, unlike Jepchirchir, could not reproduce his form over the shorter distance from a week ago in the Czech capital and despite being well placed at 10km, fell away and finished eighth in 1:03:27.
Andy Edwards (organisers) for the IAAF