If Geoffrey Ronoh can translate the kind of form he showed last summer into 26.2 miles at the Volkswagen Prague Marathon on Sunday (3), then he could produce something special at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Ronoh was one of Kenya’s leading break-through performers in 2014. Signed as a pacemaker at the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon, he stayed in the race for the full distance and famously snatched victory, leaving behind marathon superstars Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto.
He went on to win his next two races, clocking PBs of 59:45 for the half marathon and 27:28 for 10km.
“I remember what the races in the Czech Republic brought me last year,” said Ronoh. “Now I want to discover my potential oi the full marathon in Prague.”
Despite having a modest marathon personal best of 2:15:51, set a year before making a break-through to elite level, Ronoh is justifiably one of the favourites for Sunday’s race. But the fastest runner in the field has a PB that is almost ten minutes faster than Ronoh’s.
Ethiopia’s Deribe Robi ran 2:06:06 in Dubai earlier this year and leads a field of nine sub-2:10 runners in Prague.
“If we get good help from the pacemakers, then I hope to further improve and maybe I can even break the course record,” said Robi. The fastest time ever run in Prague stands at 2:05:39, set in 2010 by the then little-known Eliud Kiptanui.
While defending champion Patrick Terer had to cancel his start due to an achilles tendon injury, there still is a former winner in the elite field. Qatar’s Nicholas Kemboi won the Prague Marathon two years ago in warm weather conditions, beating Patrick Terer and other top-class runners with 2:08:51, just 50 seconds shy of his PB.
Gilbert Yegon is the other sub-2:07 marathon runner in Sunday’s field and he also has the course record in his sights. “I would like to go for a personal best and the course record,” said the Kenyan, who clocked a PB of 2:06:18 back in 2009.
Last year’s marathon performences showed that Yegon is back in peak form. A year ago he took the Duesseldorf Marathon in driving rain with 2:08:07, followed by third place in the high-class Frankfurt race in October with 2:07:08.
Three weeks ago Yegon ran in the Rotterdam Marathon. “But I got a back problem early in the race and dropped out after 17km,” said Yegon. “It is all fine now, I got good treatment in Kenya and was able to train without problems.”
Ethiopians Kebede Teferi and Hailu Mekonnen, who both have personal bests of 2:07:35, as well as Kenyans Nicholas Chelimo (2:07:38) and Evans Chebet (2:07:46) are further contenders for victory in Prague.
Ethiopians are expected to lead the chase for the women’s title. Five of them have personal bests faster than 2:25, led by 2:22:43 runner Koren Jelela.
Apart from Boston, no Kenyan woman has won any of the major international spring marathons so far; a rare occurrence on the international circuit. Athletes from Ethiopia took the honours in London, Paris, Hamburg as well as earlier this year in Dubai and Tokyo. And this pattern looks likely to continue in Prague on Sunday.
While Jelela has the fastest PB, four fellow Ethiopians have shown excellent marathon form as recently as January. Tadelech Bekele and Ashete Bekere both improved in Dubai to 2:22:51 and 2:23:43 respectively with Betelhem Moges further behind with a PB of 2:24:29. Meanwhile, Yebrqual Melese ran a PB of 2:23:23 in Houston.
Moges, known as Betty in her training and management group, will turn 24 on Sunday and has already triumphed on three occasions in the Run Czech series. She was the winner of the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon and the Mattoni Usti nad Labem Half Marathon in 2013 as well as last year’s Mattoni Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon.
“I hope to break my personal best on Sunday,” she said. “This race is probably the last opportunity to get into the Ethiopian team for the World Championships in Beijing this summer. I would like to qualify for the championships.”
Portugal’s Sara Moreira could pose a strong challenge. The 2013 European indoor 3000m champion had intended to compete at last weekend's London Marathon, but after a last-minute minor injury prevented her from competing in the British capital, she was given a late entry to Prague.
She ran an outstanding marathon debut last November in New York, finishing third with 2:26:00. Already this year she has set PBs over 10,000m (31:12.93) and the half marathon (1:09:18).
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF
Elite field (with PBs)
Deribe Robi (ETH) 2:06:06
Gilbert Yegon (KEN) 2:06:18
Kebede Teferi (ETH) 2:07:35
Hailu Mekonnen (ETH) 2:07:35
Nicholas Chelimo (KEN) 2:07:38
Evans Chebet (KEN) 2:07:46
Nicholas Kemboi (QAT) 2:08:01
Dereje Tesfaye (ETH) 2:08:15
Afewerk Mesfin (ETH) 2:09:48
Assefa Fikre (ETH) 2:10:23
Paulo Roberto Paula (BRA) 2:10:30
Hillary Kipchumba (KEN) 2:10:30
Felix Kandie (KEN) 2:10:37
Geoffrey Ronoh (KEN) 2:15:51
Koren Jelela (ETH) 2:22:43
Tadelech Bekele (ETH) 2:22:51
Yebrqual Melese (ETH) 2:23:23
Ashete Bekere (ETH) 2:23:43
Betelhem Moges (ETH) 2:24:24
Sara Moreira (POR) 2:26:00
Janet Rono (KEN) 2:26:03
Margarita Plaskina (RUS) 2:27:07
Olga Dubovskaya (BLR) 2:28:08
Iulia Andreeva (KRG) 2:30:58
Afera Godfay (ETH) debut