Joyce Chepkirui fulfilled the pre-race expectations and smashed the course record to win the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in 1:06:19 on Saturday (5).
Dominating the race from the start, her winning time was the fifth-fastest time ever run on a record-eligible course. Fellow Kenyan Emily Chebet took second in 1:08:28 and Ethiopia’s Wude Ayalew followed in third with 1:09:23.
The men’s race also produced fast times in fine weather conditions. Kenya’s Peter Kirui dominated the race and was rewarded with a personal best of 59:22, the sixth fastest in the world this year.
Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia was second with 59:54 and Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru followed in 59:59 as all three set personal bests.
Chasing a sub-66-minute time, Chepkirui burst away from her rivals at the start. Guided by her pacemaker Erick Kibet, who is both her husband and coach, Chepkirui produced splits of 15:16 for 5km and 30:56 for 10km, which suggested she might even threaten the world record of 1:05:12, set earlier this year by Chepkirui’s training partner, Florence Kiplagat.
“I was feeling fine at 5km, 10km and 15km,” said the 25-year-old. But she slowed in the third 5km section and it became clear the world record was out of reach when she passed the 15km mark in 46:49.
But there was no question as to who would win the race. With 5km to go, Chepkirui was about 90 seconds ahead of two-time world cross-country champion Chebet and 2009 world 10,000m bronze medallist Ayalew.
“I hoped to run under 66 minutes, but the last kilometre was very tough. But I am of course very happy to have won this race with a course record and a personal best,” said Chepkirui, who earned €34,000 in total, including time and course record bonuses, for her 1:06:19 performance.
Chepkirui had already set a course record and a PB in Prague two years ago with 1:07:03, but it was broken one year later by Gladys Cherono, the Kenyan who won this year’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.
Additionally, Chepkirui continued a unique Kenyan series in the Czech capital as it was the fourth time in succession that the women’s course record had been broken. In 2011 Lydia Cheromei ran 1:07:33, then came Chepkirui with her 1:07:03, which was bettered by Cherono with 1:06:48.
The depth of the elite women’s race was also impressive as five women ran faster than 70 minutes.
Better known as a race walker, 18-year-old Anezka Drahotova was the top Czech finisher in 11th place with 1:14:25. Drahotova finished seventh in the 20km race walk at last year’s IAAF World Championships, having won the European junior title earlier that year. The mult-talented teenager is also an accomplished steeplechaser and cyclist.
Kirui just as dominant as Chepkirui
The men also set out fast and were always on course for a time of about 59 minutes.
A group of eight athletes passed the 10km mark in 28:07 behind Kenyan pacemaker Hillary Kipchumba. When Peter Kirui moved away in the 14th kilometre, he was soon all on his own.
“It was a strong field, so I was surprised that no one went with me,” said the 26-year-old, who had entered the race with a personal best of 59:39.
At the 15km mark, which he passed in 42:01, Kirui was already 15 seconds ahead of a chasing group of four runners. His advantage over Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew, Daniel Wanjiru – the latter no relation to the late, great Sammy – Nicholas Kipkemboi and Henry Kiplagat was growing. And in the end he was 32 seconds clear of his nearest rival.
“I tried hard to run a personal best, because the conditions were very good,” said Kirui, who has recently undergone a training course at the police academy in Nairobi, alongside the former marathon world record-holder Patrick Makau. “At 15km I still felt fine and knew that I could win the race.”
He will soon be known as constable Kirui, but then it will be back to full athletics training and a different kind of promotion. “May be I could go for the world half marathon record,” said Kirui, who earned €19,000 for his efforts. “I might come back to Prague next year and try.”
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF
1 Peter Kirui (KEN) 59:22
2 Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 59:54
3 Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 59:59
4 Nicholas Kipkemboi (KEN) 1:00:11
5 Henry Kiplagat (KEN) 1:00:24
6 Bernard Bett (KEN) 1:00:47
7 Evans Kiplagat Barkowet (KEN) 1:00:55
8 Nicholas Bor (KEN) 1:01:25
9 Million Feysa (ETH) 1:01:26
10 Hunegnaw Mesfin (ETH) 1:01:50
1 Joyce Chepkirui (KEN) 1:06:19
2. Emily Chebet (KEN) 1:08:26
3 Wude Ayalew (ETH) 1:09:23
4 Esther Chemtai (KEN) 1:09:49
5 Afera Godfay (ETH) 1:09:52
6 Waganesh Mekasha (ETH) 1:10:23
7 Betelhem Moges (ETH) 1:10:37
8 Bouchra Ghezielle (FRA) 1:11:04
9 Firehiwot Dado (ETH) 1:11:15
10 Natalya Popkova (RUS) 1:13:58