25 MAR 2010 Preview Prague, Czech Republic

Gunning for the one-hour mark at Prague Half Marathon - PREVIEW

Wilson Chebet wins the 2009 Alphen 20km (Ingeborg Houdijk)Wilson Chebet wins the 2009 Alphen 20km (Ingeborg Houdijk) © Copyright
  The legacy of Emil Zàtopek may have got lost sometime somewhere by the local practitioners, but the Czechs still appreciate long distance runners. And there will duly be thousands lining the streets of central Prague to watch the latest inheritors of the Zata mantle, the Kenyans and Ethiopians, burn up the tarmac in the Hervis Prague Half-Marathon on Saturday lunchtime.

The Hervis Prague Half-Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Ten years ago, Robert Stefko, one of the few Europeans to go close to the magic one-hour barrier (60:29), would have been up at the front, vying for the led with the East Africans. But the Czech, now 42 is content to “enjoy the running,” and will be watching from a few minutes back of the leaders.

“I don’t know if we can ever beat the Kenyans and Ethiopians,” says Stefko, a man who used to get very close to doing so. “Their whole lifestyle is concentrated on running. In Europe, we have too many distractions.”

Prague, one of the jewels of central Europe has plenty of distractions, but none that will tempt race favourites Wilson Chebet and Joseph Maregu of Kenya, or Ethiopian Yemane Tsegay, at least until after the race. Both Kenyans have run under the hour, 59:15 and 59:45 respectively, and Tsegay was edged out of bronze in the World Championships Marathon in Berlin last summer. So the expectation in this 12th edition of the event that complements the full Marathon here in early May, is that the course record of 60:09, and even the once unbreachable one hour will fall on the banks of the Vltava River, where the race begins and ends.

The temperature which has been rising in central Europe this week is expected to be around 12C, with a possibility of rain, just about perfect for Chebet’s attempt at a fifth sub-60min run. “Although I have run better than 60 minutes four times, I have not won,” said Chebet on Thursday. “I need now to win one in under one hour.”

But another Kenyan, Joel Kemboi may just have a say in that. Kemboi, 22, won the Discovery Kenya cross country race recently, beating back people like the new elite ‘find’ Samuel Kitwara, who counts a recent win over Haile Gebrselassie. That exploit alone suggests that Kemboi can challenge for the title here.

In the women’s race, defending champion and course record holder, with 1:09:03 from last year, Rose Kosgei of Kenya will be challenged by colleague Irene Kwambai, who has also broken 70 minutes. But making her half-marathon debut is a seasoned campaigner at the full distance, Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia, who won the Tokyo Marathon recently.

There may be few Czech runners of repute nowadays, but former renowned footballer Pavel Nedved will doubtless be cheered to the echo. A winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or, Nedved retired from football at the end of the 2009 season, and started training in order to fulfill his promise to run a marathon. That will be on May 9 here, but on Saturday he begins with the ‘half’.

There is a record entry of 8500, up 30% on last year, with contestants from 67 countries.

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF