Peres Jepchirchir’s win perfect answer to 'noisy neighbours'

Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya beats the World Record (1:05:16) and wins the women's race of the 2020 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, in October 17, 2020.

Photo credit: Mateusz Slodkowski | AFP

What you need to know:

  • For winning Saturday’s race, Jepchirchir took home Sh3.2 million in prize money, and additional Sh5.4 million for breaking the world record.
  • Before the race, everything - from the quality of the field, the altitude to the weather pointed to an exciting race in women’s category.

After an underwhelming week during which Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei (men’s 10,000 metres) and Ethiopia’s Letensebet Gidey (women’s 5,000m) set world records of their own, Kenyan athletics fans Saturday got something to cheer about when Peres Jepchirchir won women’s race at the 24th World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in record time.

The only athletics championship race of the year saw Jepchirchir win in the Polish port city of Gdynia in a women-only world record time of one hour, five minutes and 16 seconds.

For winning Saturday’s race, Jepchirchir took home Sh3.2 million in prize money, and additional Sh5.4 million for breaking the world record. In many respects, it was a perfect response for Kenya, coming just days after athletes from Kenya’s rivals in middle and long distance running —Uganda and Ethiopia — broke world records.

Before the race, everything - from the quality of the field, the altitude to the weather pointed to an exciting race in women’s category. While the men’s race, for some reason turned out differently, all these factors combined to yield a world record in the women’s race.

First, Jepchirchir led a stellar field to yesterday’s race as the reigning world half marathon record holder (women-only race). Prior to yesterday’s race, she had set the record during this year’s Prague Half Marathon on September 5 when she timed 1:05:34.

And Saturday, Jepchirchir, who also won the world half marathon gold in the 2016 edition of the championship, lowered her world record by a whopping 18 seconds. If the race attracted a star-studded field, Jepchirchir headlined the list.

The stellar field for women’s race also featured former world record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei (1:04:51), Rosemary Wanjiru (1:05:34), Ethiopia’s Ababel Yashaneh, who holds the mixed gender half marathon world record of 1:04:31 and defending champion Netsanet Gudeta.

Gudeta won the women’s race in 2018 in a women-only record of 1:06:11, and timed 1:05:45 to finish second at the 2019 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon.

Going into the race, Jepchirchir had predicted very fast times, and the possibility of a world record. Although many will argue that she benefited from a fall by Gudeta and Yashaneh earlier on in the race, and later nasty fall by Yalemzerf Yehualaw, that came to pass.

In competitions, athletes pay dearly for miscalculations or mistakes especially in a race such as Saturday’s that was ran on a route with tight corners.

It could be a misstep, wrong turn, a poorly-timed kick, or a case of an athlete stepping inside the field in track races. Often, athletes cash in on such miscalculations, and Jepchirchir did exactly that, followed by Germany's Melat Yisak Kejeta (1:05:18) and Yehualaw (1:05:19).

Secondly, yesterday’s race was run alongside the Baltic Sea, at low altitude. Gdynia is at sea level, which means high oxygen levels for the athletes.

ecause of the increased air pressure at low altitude, oxygen diffuses into the athletes’ red blood cells faster.

Subsequently, more oxygen is delivered to the muscles, making for a better performance. Athletes running in low altitude locations like Gdynia enjoy good supply of oxygen to the muscles and subsequently greater stamina and endurance necessary for a gruelling 21km run.

At a higher elevations, less oxygen is available, meaning less oxygen is delivered to the athlete’s muscles. In this respect, Gdynia’s altitude favoured a world record.

Finally, cool conditions in Gdynia, with atmospheric temperature of between seven to eight degrees celcius, favoured fast times. With  humidity at 67 percent and wind speed of 8 km/h, the competitors did not struggle at all.

For a reason, the men’s race did not yield a world record. Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo, 19, took the men's race in a new championship record of 58:49 to graduate to the senior ranks in style.

He was followed by Kenya’s Kibiwot Kandie (58:54) and Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn (59:08).

Kiplimo’s compatriot Joshua Cheptegei finished fourth in 59:21, but Uganda celebrates a first ever medal at the World Half Marathon Championships.

jmwamba@ke.nationmedia.com