The best ever elite fields in the history of the event will be on the starting line this Sunday (12) for the Volkswagen Prague Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Seven men in the field have sub-2:09 personal bests while half a dozen women have bettered 2:25. Kenyans Albert Matebor (2:05:25) and Lydia Cheromei (2:21:30) are the two with the fastest times.
With a runner of Matebor’s calibre competing on Sunday there is talk of a potential course record. Kenya’s Eliud Kiptanui established this mark in a sensational race in 2010, when he clocked 2:05:39. It is a tough time to beat and Matebor is well aware of this.
“I think I am in a 2:06 shape. But we have a strong field and when we work together well, than maybe we can dip under 2:06 and perhaps even break the course record,” said the 32-year-old, who ran his PB in Frankfurt in 2011.
When Matebor was younger he did not think about becoming a professional runner. “When we competed at school I was average,” he remembers. His attitude changed when he saw athletes like William Kiplagat – the former Rotterdam Marathon winner – train on his door step in the Keiyo District.
However, after school he first chose to work at his brother’s farm, where he sold potatoes in the farm shop to earn some money. After a year he started training seriously at the age of 21. “I knew I had potential and wanted to give it a try.”
One of Matebor’s first races was a Marathon through Kenya’s countryside in 2006, finishing third in the Lewa Marathon in Isiolo. “There were quite some wild animals not far away from the course, which can be frightening. I saw elephants and buffalos. Because of this there is armed security every two kilometres.”
He ran 2:21 in muddy conditions on the hilly course and was spotted by a representative of Jos Hermens’ management. His international career then took off and he returned to the Lewa Marathon a year later and won it in 2:19. Nowadays Matebor prefers European-based Marathons.
His rivals for this Sunday include six runners with sub-2:09 personal bests. Kenya’s Mariko Kipchumba is the second fastest in the field after improving his PB to 2:06:05 when winning the Reims Marathon last October.
The others are Kenya’s Benjamin Kiptoo (2:06:31) and Julius Nderitu Karinga (2:08:01), Qatar’s Nicholas Kemboi (2:08:01) and Ethiopian duo Teshome Gelana (2:07:37) and Girmay Birhanu (2:08:11).
Another athlete who could do very well is Amanuel Mesel, who will be making his Marathon debut. The 22-year-old Eritrean was second in the Hervis Prague Half Marathon last month with 60:10.
Cheromei looking for second Prague win
The women’s race will see the return of the course record-holder Lydia Cheromei, who won the race two years ago with 2:22:34. The Kenyan, who will turn 36 the day before the race, is the fastest in the field with her PB of 2:21:30, but there could be at least six other women challenging for victory on Sunday.
One of them is fellow Kenyan Caroline Rotich, who improved to 2:23:22 in last year’s Chicago Marathon where she finished fifth. “I am in similar shape as before Chicago, so hopefully with the help of a very strong field I can further improve on Sunday,” said the US-based Rotich, who is coached by former US Olympic triathlete Ryan Bolton. “But of course I am not only looking at my time. I want to win.”
If weather conditions are favourable, the women’s course record could fall. “I want to run between 2:20 and 2:21,” said Philes Ongori after finishing second with 68:01 at the Berlin Half Marathon last month. The Kenyan has a personal best of 2:24:20.
Other contenders include Japan’s Azusa Nojiri (2:24:57) and Ethiopian trio Koren Jelela (2:22:43), Ehitu Kiros (2:23:39) and Selomie Getnet (2:25:15).
“We have a record number of participants with almost 10,000 runners and we will see the best elite field ever,” said Carlo Capalbo, chairman of the organising committee. “Additionally we have more than 1000 athletes running for charity and the Volkswagen Prague Marathon will be shown live on TV in China and many other countries. This is something I did never believe to be possible when we started many years ago.”
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF