World Half Marathon Championships titles ours for the taking

Former world half marathon record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei (left) and Brillian Jepkorir at the Eldoret International Airport on October 13, 2020 ahead of their trip to Poland for the World Athletics Half Marathon Champions slated for Saturday in Gdynia.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • It will be good to see the Kenyans win once again after a long spell of coronavirus havoc. Victory will no doubt give hope to the athletics fraternity that things are getting back to normal.
  • The event was initially scheduled for March 29 in the Northern Baltic coastal city of Gdynia, but was shelved due to coronavirus.

Once again, the focus is on athletics this weekend as former world marathon record holder Patrick Makau leads Kenya to Gdynia, Poland, for World Athletics Half Marathon Championships.

Saturday’s event comes two weeks after Kenya staged a successful Kip Keino Classic Nairobi Continental Tour leg at the Nyayo National Stadium.

We also had the London Marathon on the same weekend where world record holder Brigid Kosgei won the women’s race while world champion Ruth Chepng’etich placed third.

Vincent Kipchumba placed second in the men’s race in which Eliud Kipchoge’s bid to retain his title was hindered by a blocked ear.

Even in the absence of three-time champion Geoffrey Kamworor, I am still confident that Kenyans will dominate both team and individual titles in Poland on Saturday.

Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) and Prague Half Marathon champion Kibiwott Kandie and 2017 World Cross Country Championships silver medallist Leonard Barsoton lead the men’s list and I believe they are up to the challenge.

Kandie comes into these championships as the fastest man in the field over the distance, after his world leading time of 58:38 last month at the RunCzech half marathon in Prague.

The 24-year-old Kenyan is fifth on the half marathon all-time list, and could pull off a surprise victory in Gdynia.

Kandie will be hoping to clinch his nation’s fourth consecutive men’s title and follow in the footsteps of Kamworor, who had won every single title since 2014 but decided to skip Poland due to injury.  

Kandie will also have the company of Bernard Kipkorir (59:07), Bernard Kimeli (59:07) and Morris Munene (59:22).

I am aware that Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei will pose the biggest challenge for Kenya. But considering this will be Cheptegei’s debut at the World Half Championships, he is bound to falter.

The 10,000m world champion has won all his four races in 2020 and set three world records, but Poland could be a different ball game.  The women’s team list also reads like ‘who is who’ in distance running with world record holder Peres Jepchirchir leading the way.

Peres won the title in 2016 and will be seeking to reclaim it this time round.  She will team up with former world half marathon record holder Joycilline Jepkosgei, who will be out to make amends after settling for silver in Valencia 2018.

Other Kenyans in the mix are Brillian Jepkorir, Dorcas Jepchumba and Rosemary Wanjiru. Double world champion Sifan Hassan would have been a headache for Kenyan women, but she has decided to end her season early.

Sifan has been enjoying top form having broken the one-hour record in Brussels in September. Her personal record is 65:15 from the half marathon in Copenhagen in 2018.

“It has been a tough year, the uncertainty of competitions going ahead was always part of my training regime,” Sifan said on Tuesday while announcing that her season was over.

“To focus and push yourself every day in training is difficult, especially when you don’t know if it will be possible to deliver performances in a competition environment. The season was short, but the lead up to it was long. Therefore I decided to give myself some rest and focus for next year.

“I want to make sure I will be in top shape physically and mentally next year at the Olympic Games. I am very proud of my performances this season, the world hour record and the European record this weekend.

“Those results give me good faith that I am able to reach my highest potential, also in uncertain times.

Therefore I look forward to next year with a lot of confidence.” Indeed, we look forward to her return in 2021. The Kenyan team, by all standards, is a very formidable one and we can only expect the best, especially with Sifan’s exit, although even had she lined up on Saturday, it would have been difficult for her to challenge Team Kenya.

I know the weather conditions will be a challenge — ranging between six degrees to 11 degrees on the competition day — but this will not be the first time for the athletes to compete under these conditions. In any case, it will be cold for everyone and I guess our athletes are prepared psychologically.

It will be good to see the Kenyans win once again after a long spell of coronavirus havoc. Victory will no doubt give hope to the athletics fraternity that things are getting back to normal.

The event was initially scheduled for March 29 in the Northern Baltic coastal city of Gdynia, but was shelved due to coronavirus.

Korir is the chairman of Athletics Kenya’s Nairobi branch and Meet Director of the Kip Keino Classic.

barnabakorir@yahoo.com