Helah Kiprop, Geoffrey Mutai and Geoffrey Ronoh ahead of the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10km (Organisers) © Copyright
Preview Prague, Czech Republic

Mutai faces tough challenge from rising star Ronoh in Prague

Geoffrey Mutai’s competitive edge could be tested to the limit in the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10km, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Saturday evening (6) by a fellow Kenyan who deserved the title of an unknown on the international scene two months ago.

While Mutai’s credentials are well documented – the fastest marathoner in history, thanks to his 2:03:02 in Boston in 2011 and a course record-holder and current title holder in New York – Geoffrey Ronoh followed a more humble path in distance running as a pacemaker.

But he emerged as a genuine pretender to any ruler on a throne when he beat marathon world record-holder Wilson Kipsang over half the distance in Olomouc in the Czech Republic on 21 June.

Mutai and Ronoh chatted amicably at breakfast in Prague on Thursday after sharing a 50-minute training run beside the River Vltova. It wouldn’t happen in every sport, yet, at the same time, both have intensity for competition.

“I consider every race I do as a big race,” said Mutai. “I know I am running in New York to defend my marathon title in November, but I’ve always concentrated on the next race on my schedule, so Prague on Saturday is my priority. I’m in good form and feeling good to be here for the first time.”

His best for 10km is 27:19, set in Boston in 2011, nine weeks after stunning the distance-running world with his marathon performance. In recent years he’s had injury problems, but says they are now healed.

“I’ve had no injuries in training, they are behind me now and my ambition is to run my best in the 10km.”

At peak performance, Mutai would certainly challenge the course record of 27:34, set by Kenya’s Philemon Limo in 2011 while Daniel Chebii, also running this year, finished just a second short in 2013.

Ronoh, who made the headlines with victory on his half marathon debut in Olomouc, has a best of 28:19, yet this was achieved en route to his victory. Anyone who trains with Kipsang and lasts the pace has strong qualities, mental as well as physical.

“When training has gone well, I believe I can beat anyone, including Geoffrey Mutai,” said Ronoh. “I was pleased with my PB of 59:45 [set last month in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt] so I’m feeling confident.”

Ronoh radiates confidence, as does Mutai, and a sign of the former’s rise may well be the headphones and personal sound system which he now uses to relax still further, an addition since the debut victory in Olomouc.

Other men to note are Turkey’s 2012 European 10,000m champion Polat Kemboi Arikan and Kenya’s Richard Mengich, whose best of 27:48 was achieved on the super-fast Berlin course in March.

Helah Kiprop is the fastest entry in the women’s race with a best of 31:19, set during the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon last year and the Kenyan is one of a quartet of sub-32-minute performers, which suggests that last year’s inaugural course record of 32:00 by Kenya’s Josephine Chepkoech will come under attack.

Kiprop is an advocate of testing her speed as she prepares for an autumn marathon, so the timing of Prague falls just right. The presence of the Kenyans Correti Chepkoech (31:31), Esther Chemtai (31:33) and the Russian Natalya Pokova (31:55) should ensure strong competition from start to finish in Wenceslas Square.

Andy Edwards for the IAAF