races wide open on Sunday
4 May 2002 – Brussels, Belgium – According to two of the athletes considered to be leading medal prospects for Sunday’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, both races are wide open.
Leading Kenyans Charles Kamathi and Susan Chepkemei both say that there are strong fields and no one athlete is likely to dominate the racing through the streets of Brussels tomorrow.
In the women’s race, Susan Chepkemei, who won silver in the preceding two editions of the Championships says that she cannot see any athlete standing out from the others.
“Of course,” says Chepkemei, “I will be aiming to improve on my past performances.
“I have won two silver medals and now I want to do better, but I do not really know what shape the others are in – and that is what counts on the day.”
Although Chepkemei finished behind Paula Radcliffe in both of the last runnings of the World Half Marathon Championships, she still would have liked to test herself against the British athlete again: “I really respect and like Paula, “ she says. “She is an athlete who really decides how she is going to do things and gets out there and does what she wants. That is something I really respect.”
With Radcliffe deciding not to attempt another defence of her title, which if successful would have put her on an equal footing with Tegla Loroupe, who is the only athlete ever to have won three editions of the Championships, Loroupe and her sometime training partner Berhane Adere from Ethiopia could well be the strongest opponents facing Chepkemei.
Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan starts as the favourite outsider in the women’s race.
The Irish star made her return to competition, after the birth of her second daughter, at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Dublin at the end of March, placing eighth and winning a team bronze. She lacks the depth of experience on the road of many of her competitors but has said that she is feeling in top form after a period training in California and considers herself to be a definite medal contender.
Another strong medal hope must also be Belgium’s Marleen Renders, coming off a new Belgian record performance in the marathon in Paris. Asked whether she had fully recovered from her performance in France, Renders said that she felt great and was looking forward to tomorrow’s competition.
“I have been training really hard since Paris and I am feeling really good. I have recovered fully and am looking forward to running in front of a great Belgian crowd tomorrow.”
Charles Kamathi (KEN) is optimistic about his own chances after a second place in the strongly contested Stramilano half marathon in Milan on 13 April, where he was narrowly beaten by Italy’s Rachid Berradi, but still feels that the men’s field is very strong on a tough.
Kamathi was running his first half marathon in Milan and clocked 1:00.22, in a race that saw Berradi shatter his previous half marathon best by five and half minutes to beat Kamathi in 1:00:20. now it remains to be seen whether the Italian will be able to repeat his performance.
For Kamathi, the strongest opposition is likely to come from Tesfaye Jifar, winner of the last edition of the New York Marathon and a runner up at the 2001 World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol last year, who comes to Brussels just weeks after finishing ninth at the London Marathon in 2:09:50. “My main target of the year was that race and I was disappointed not to have done better. But after a brief rest I decided I needed to run again and was pleased to have an opportunity in Brussels. I am not sure how much of the race in London I still have in my legs, so will probably be cautious in my tactics. It won’t be easy but I will try to do better than last year.”
Jifar – although remaining focused on the road – is happy with the progress of his compatriots. “Haile was fantastic in London even though he didn’t win, and he encouraged me to enter Brussels. But the person who really impressed me recently was Bekele in Dublin. I know better than most how well he ran in those conditions. For me, Bekele is now the best Ethiopian runner after Haile.”
Tomorrow, the weather conditions could play a determining role in the outcome of the competition.
The course is trying, with 45 metres between the highest and lowest points of the circuit through the centre of Brussels – and with the competition run over two laps of the circuit, the toughest point will be at around the 17 km mark where the athletes will have to face the gruelling gradient for a second time on their way to the finish line in the magnificent Grand Place.