All eyes will be on Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai in his first race following a seven-month layoff from racing at the fifth edition of the Mattoni Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Saturday (4).
Mutai, now 34, is a two-time New York City Marathon champion and winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon in 2:03:02, still the second-fastest time ever recorded in a marathon, but he has been hampered by injuries in recent years.
His 2014 racing season was punctuated by a pair of sixth-place finishes, in London and New York City.
Last year, he was forced to drop out of the London Marathon and then ran 2:09:29 for fifth place in the Berlin Marathon in September. He has not raced since, as he was forced to scratch from the Boston Marathon after injuries curtailed his ability to meet training goals ahead of the race.
Nevertheless, a fast time and victory in the Czech race would send a clear message that Mutai is indeed back to top-class racing.
"We are very pleased that Geoffrey, the race record holder of the Boston and New York City Marathons, has chosen one of our races to return to top level international competition following his recovery,” said President of the organisers, Carlo Capalbo.
The course is flat and fast, with a course record of 59:49 by Kenya’s Daniel Chebii in its very first edition in 2012. Starting and finishing in the large Ottokar II Square, this year around 3400 participants will encounter stunning examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture as the sun sets in South Bohemia.
Mutai could get some serious competition from 22-year-old Barselius Yego, who in April finished second in the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in 59:30, the sixth-fastest time in the world this year and 28 seconds faster than Mutai’s personal best.
Other men with a solid chance of triumphing include the Kenyan trio of Frankline Chepkwony (best of 1:00:11), Henry Rutto Kiplagat (1:00:24 PB) and half marathon debutant Evans Cheruiyot, as well as Morocco’s and Mustafa El Aziz (1:00:39 PB).
Could Chebet provide a Kenyan double?
In the women’s race, Kenya’s Risper Chebet will return to Czech Republic one month after her third-place finish at the Volkswagen Prague Marathon in 2:27:23, and is looking to earn her third career victory at the shoter distance.
Back in April, Chebet also finished sixth in the Prague Half Marathon in a personal best pf 1:09:24.
On paper, Chebet’s primary competition – with the runners chasing a course record of 1:10:54 – would appear to be her 28-year-old compatriot Esther Chemtai Ndeima, who finished fourth in the 2014 Prague Half Marathon in a personal best 1:09:49.
However, look out also for Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekere. The 28-year-old ran 2:23:43 in the Dubai Marathon last year and opened 2016 with a solid seventh-place finish at the Tokyo Marathon in 2:25:50.
Other women potentially in contention for a place on the podium include Kenyans Lucy Wambui Murigi (best of 1:10:52), Janet Jelagat Rono (1:11:10 PB) and half marathon debutante Sarah Jebet (debut).
Volha Mazuronak leads the European challenge and although the runner from Belarus has a relatively modest half marathon best of 1:12.02, she finished fourth in this year's London Marathon in April in 2:23:54.
Local interest will be focused on Czech international Jiri Homolac, who was forced to abort his attempt to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at last month’s Prague Marathon due to the hot conditions; and 43-year-old Petra Kamínkova, the 41-time Czech champion at distances from 1500m to the half marathon.
Organisers for the IAAF