The cloudy skies in Portugal threaten to rain at the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (24) but that won’t stop both races being highly competitive.
The date of this race – the same as the IAAF World Cross Country Championships – could be the reason for some absences, but there are still several elite athletes in Lisbon hoping to set personal bests, while a world record will be rewarded with a $50,000 bonus.
World champion takes on Olympic champion
Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, the World Marathon champion, leads the women’s entries. After a disappointing run at the Olympic Games where she finished 20th in the Marathon, Kiplagat bounced back to finish second at the Great North Run, smashing her personal best for the Half-marathon with 67:41.
But despite her impressive record over 26.2 miles, the former New York Marathon champion – who boasts a 2:19:50 Marathon PB – Kiplagat has not won a Half-marathon race since 2007. In Lisbon she will be keen to get back to winning ways, but she won’t have it easy.
Compatriot Pasalia Jepkoech is the fastest woman in the field with her PB of 67:17, set last year in Rio de Janeiro before she went on to take bronze at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. She will be joined by fellow Kenyan Sylvia Kibet, the two-time World 5000m silver medallist, who is better known for her exploits on the track but has shown flashes of brilliance on the roads. This will be her first Half-marathon since 2009.
The other Kenyan in the field is Eunice Jepkorir, who has finished in the top two in all 11 of her Half-marathon races to date, winning eight of them. She has a PB of 68:39, set in Azkoitia last year. Tadelech Bekele is the sole Ethiopian in the field and is fresh from a PB of 69:31, set earlier this month in Verbania.
Although one of the oldest in the field at 36, Latvia’s Jelena Prokopcuka can never be written off. She recently finished fourth at the Nagoya Marathon in 2:25:46 – her fastest time since 2006 – while she broke her own national record in her last Half-marathon race, clocking 68:09 at the 2012 Great North Run.
But perhaps the dark horse is Russia’s Gulnara Galkina, the 2008 Olympic 3000m Steeplechase champion. The 34-year-old made her road-running debut last year, clocking 32:43 for 10km in Zhukovskiy. Although not quite in the form that took her to her 8:58.81 World record in the Steeplechase, Galkina boasts impressive range from the 800m (2:00.29) to the 5000m (14:33.13), so it will be interesting to see how she fares in her longest race to date.
As ever, the domestic challenge will be strong and Portugese fans will have high hopes for European 10,000m champion Ana Dulce Felix, who has a PB of 68:32, and European indoor 3000m champion Sara Moreira, who will be looking to finally break the 70-minute barrier.
Others to look out for include Morocco’s Malika Asahssah, South Africa’s Irvette van Blerk, and Italy’s Rosaria Console.
Expected battle between Masai and Koech in men’s race
Kenya’s Bernard Koech comes to Lisbon in the form of his life. Earlier this year he set a PB of 2:04:53 when finishing fifth at the Dubai Marathon, while in his last Half-marathon race he smashed his lifetime best with a time of 59:10 in Lille.
But he isn’t the only sub-60-minute runner in the field. Compatriot Titus Masai has a best of 59:51 and is familiar with the Lisbon course, having raced twice before in the Portuguese capital.
Other Kenyans in the field include Milton Rotich, runner-up in Gothenburg last year, Bernard Kitur, second at the 2012 Porto Half Marathon, Richard Mengich, winner of the Remich and Dresden Half Marathons last year, and recent Eldoret Half Marathon champion Peter Some.
But perhaps the most exciting men’s entrant is Ibrahim Jeylan, the world 10,000m champion. The Ethiopian’s 2012 season was cut short due to injury, but he is back racing and has chosen this weekend’s race in which to make his Half-marathon debut.
There’s a strong Eritrean challenge too. Although 2012 winner and World record-holder Zersenay Tadese is not competing in Lisbon this year, his team-mates have a good chance of a podium finish. Samuel Tsegay and Yared Asmeron have exchanged national Marathon records over the years and will be keen to break the one-hour barrier for the Half-marathon in Lisbon. Tsegay has twice finished in the top five at the World Half Marathon Championships, while Asmeron is a two-time winner of the Azkoitia-Azpeitia Half Marathon.
Also in the field are Zimbabwe’s Cuthbert Nyasango who finished seventh in the 2012 Olympic Marathon, Morocco’s Adil Annani, and Ethiopian trio Abera Kuma, Merkebu Birke and Seboka Fikadu.
The Portuguese field is headed by 2004 Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Rui Silva, who finished fourth in Lisbon last year, Fernando Silva and Hermano Ferreira.
António Manuel Fernandes and Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF