Kenyans James Rungaru and Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui will start as favourites at the 20th edition of the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Saturday (7).
The course, which winds through the historical heart of the Czech capital, is notoriously fast, evidenced last year when Joyciline Jepkosgei broke the world record with a sizzling 1:04:52 run, while picking up world records for 10km (30:04), 15km (45:37) and 20km (1:01:25) en route. While the latter two are now considered world bests and Jepkosgei has gone on to further improve the 10km and half marathon marks, her performance was nonetheless one of the most memorable road running achievements in recent memory.
The men's course record is fast too. Atsedu Tsegay clocked 58:47 to win the 2012 edition, still the seventh fastest performance in history and Ethiopian national record. The 27-year-old returns to Prague hoping to bounce back into sub-one hour territory for the first time since 2013. He showed reasonably good form last month in Lisbon, where he clocked 1:00:28 in windy conditions to finish fifth in the Portuguese capital.
But it will be 25-year-old Kenyan James Rungaru who brings the strongest credentials and form to the start line on Saturday. Four weeks ago, Runguru clocked 59:37 to win the City Pier City Half Marathon at The Hague, his first dip into sub-one hour waters.
Justus Kangogo meanwhile is the fastest in the field at 59:31 set in last year's Rome-Ostia race. He was sixth in the same contest last month in 1:01:02.
Others to watch include Josphat Tanui who returns with purpose after finishing second both here last year in 1:00:38 and in Usti Nad Labem, some 90 kilometres to the north, with a 59:22 personal best.
Meanwhile, Benard Kimeli is looking to move his good fortunes in Prague up in distance. Last September the 22-year-old won the Birell Prague 10km in 27:10, the fastest performance in the world in 2017. he made his half marathon debut in at the RAK Half in Ras Al Khaimah in February, clocking 1:00:16 for eighth.
Geoffrey Ronoh, 35, also has sub-60 minute credentials, but his 59:45 lifetime best came four years ago.
On the women's side, the favourite role falls on Kipkirui, after her notable 2018 start. In February, the 23-year-old clocked 1:05:07 at the RAK Half to become the fifth fastest ever over the distance, yet finished no better than third in that high quality race. That performance wasn't a one-off. In January she clocked 1:06:48 to finish second in Houston.
Her compatriot Joan Melly Chelimo is also expected to challenge. The 27-year-old was fourth in Ras Al Khaimah in 1:05:37, landing her at No. 8 on the all-time performers list.
They'll be challenged by 2015 winner Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia, the runner-up here last year in 1:06:14. That performance remains the 27-year-old's lifetime best but she's illustrated strong form in 2018 after a fourth place finish in the Dubai Marathon where she clocked 2:19:53, finishing fifth.
In all, 11,500 runners from 78 countries are entered. The race will be broadcast live on ČT Sport beginning at 09:50 (GMT+2). A live stream will appear on www.runczech.com and the RunCzech Facebook page.
Bob Ramsak and organisers for the IAAF