Daniel Chebii and Josephine Chepkoech of Kenya took the O2 Prague Grand Prix, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Saturday night (7).
Both winners had to rely on their finishing speed as they were just one second ahead on the line. Chebii clocked 27:35 and was unlucky to miss the event record by just one second, while surprise winner Chepkoech ran 32:00.
The men’s race was fast from the start. On a new one-loop course, a group of seven runners passed the first kilometre in 2:46 and then carried on to a 3km split of 8:12. Kenyan newcomer Nicholas Bor – competing in his first race outside of his home country – then kept the pace high in the middle of the race, leading group of seven to a promising 5km split time of 13:41.
The 25-year-old then dropped back, but went on to finish in sixth place with 28:37.
With two kilometres to go and the clock at 22:10, three runners were in contention for victory: Ethiopia’s Kinde Atanaw, Kenya’s Julius Lomerinyang and Daniel Chebii. While Lomerinyang lost contact, Atanaw and Chebii stayed together.
It then looked as if the Ethiopian, who had entered the race with a personal best of 28:12, would take the honours, because he slightly edged ahead with a few hundred metres to go. But somehow Chebii managed to squeeze past Atanaw with a final effort. Thinking he was the winner, Atanaw had already started to lift his arms in celebration, but it was Chebii who had the last laugh.
Despite his triumph, there was a slight disappointment for 28-year-old Chebii, because he missed Philemon Limo’s 27:34 course record – and an extra bonus of 2000 Euros – by just one second. However, his winning time of 27:35 improved his personal best by one second.
Asked about his form on Friday, Chebii had replied: “I had fever two months ago and I only trained for this race for one month. So I am at 60 per cent now.” But after the race he increased this figure. “I would say it was 80 per cent today.”
One wonders what will happen once Chebii feels fully fit, which could be in a week’s time when he will be one of the favourites for the Usti nad Labem Half Marathon, which is also organised by Run Czech.
The O2 Prague Grand Prix was Chebii’s second major win in the Czech Republic. Last year he took the Budejovice Half Marathon with a personal best and course record of 59:49.
The runners taking second to fourth positions on Saturday night also clocked personal bests. For Atanaw (27:36) and Lomerinyang (27:42) it was the first time that they had broken 28 minutes. Fourth-placed John Kipsang ran 28:03, followed by Kiprop Limo (28:24) and then newcomer Bor (28:37).
Jepkoech surprises Chebet
In the women’s race the pace was not as spectacular as in the men’s event. Because of this, a group of six runners were still together at half way (16:04) but there were only three left a kilometre later: pre-race favourite and World cross-country champion Emily Chebet, Britain’s Gemma Steel and Josephine Chepkoech.
It was Steel, who had improved her personal best to 31:36 a month ago in Maine, who took the lead with two kilometres to go, but she could not open a gap on the Kenyans.
“With 400 metres to go I still had a chance of winning,” said Steel. But when it came to the final sprint, she was beaten, which did not surprise her. “I don’t have that kind of speed at the end,” said Steel, who was happy with her third place and had no reason to be disappointed. “I am in the mix with the Kenyans now, which is new to me.”
Indeed there were many more Africans behind Steel than in front of her. She finished in third with 32:08, followed by Kenyans Esther Chemtai (32:48) and Jackline Chepngeno (32:49). Steel’s next race may be the Great North Run in Newcastle next Sunday. “I have not yet decided on this,” she said. “I will see how I feel and how training goes on Tuesday. Afterwards I will know.”
While Steel was happy to settle for a place on the podium, the race for victory was almost as close as the one in the men’s race and it ended with quite a surprise.
With Chepkoech left as her only rival, Chebet looked the likely winner. But Chebet, who had been outsprinted in the World Championships 10,000m final and took fourth place there, was again beaten at the very end.
Chepkoech took the first women’s 10km race in the history of the event – previously the elite women used to run 5km – in 32:00 while Chebet followed with 32:01.
“I am very happy with the win and this is a great personal best for me,” said Jepkoech, who improved her PB by 23 seconds. Like the men’s winner Chebii, she will also run the Usti nad Labem Half Marathon next week. “I consider myself more a half-marathon runner,” said the 24 year-old, who has this year improved her PB at that distance to a fine 1:08:53.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF