All eyes will be on legendary Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai as he looks to regain past championship form in his first race following a seven-month layoff at the Mattoni České Budějovice Half Marathon on June 4. In the women’s race, Risper Chebet of Kenya will return to the Czech Republic one month after her breakthrough podium finish at the Volkswagen Prague Marathon looking to earn just her third career victory at the distance.
The Mattoni České Budějovice Half Marathon is the fourth of seven races in the Run Czech Running League. Now in its fifth edition, the race will carry an IAAF Gold Label rating for the first time. All seven races in the Run Czech Running League have been awarded Gold Labels, giving the country the most top-level road races in the world.
This year, 3400 runners will descend at dusk on historic České Budějovice, a town 100 miles outside of Prague. The course is flat and fast, producing a winning time of 59:49 by Daniel Chebii of Kenya in its very first edition in 2012. Starting and finishing in the large Ottokar II Square, runners will encounter stunning examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture as the sun sets in South Bohemia.
The real charm to the city, is in its history as a beer brewing mecca. Having served as the imperial brewery for Holy Roman Emperors dating back to the 13th Century, the town has since been home to the “Pivovar Budějovický Budvar” or Budweiser Budvar Brewery since 1895.
The brewery, which has legal rights to market its beer under the “Budweiser” brand name in much of Europe, has engaged in numerous legal disputes with Anheuser-Busch over the brand name shared by the American lager. The Czech government continues to refuse all offers by Anheuser-Busch to buy out the brewery in order to secure global rights to the name “Budweiser.”
But before toasting with a cold pint, the elites will be focused on 13.1 miles of racing.
Perhaps no one has more at stake than Mutai. The 34-year-old is twice a New York City Marathon champion and winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon in 2:03:02, the second-fastest time ever recorded in a marathon. But he has not finished on the podium since 2013 and has been hampered by injuries in recent years.
Mutai’s 2014 racing season was punctuated by a pair of sixth-place finishes, in London and New York City. Last year, he was forced to drop out of the London Marathon and then ran 2:09:29 for fifth place in the Berlin Marathon in September. He has not raced since, as he was forced to scratch from April’s Boston Marathon after injuries curtailed his ability to meet training goals ahead of the race.
A fast time and victory in České Budějovice would send a clear message that Mutai is indeed back to racing on a world-class level and could set him up as a featured elite in one of the three Abbott World Marathon Majors races this fall. Carlo Capalbo, the President of the RunCzech Organizing Committee, said “We are very pleased that Geoffrey, the race record holder of the Boston and New York City Marathons, has chosen one of our races to return to top level international competition following his recovery.”
But this won’t simply be a coronation run for Mutai. He figures to get serious competition from 22-year-old Barselius Yego, who in April finished second in the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in 59:30, the sixth-fastest time in the world this year and some 28 seconds faster than Mutai’s personal best. Other’s with a solid chance at contending for top rung of the podium include Kenyans Frankline Chepkwony (60:11 PB), Henry Rutto Kiplagat (60:24 PB) and Evans Cheruiyot (debut), and Mustafa El Aziz (60:39 PB) of Morocco.
In the women’s race, perhaps no athlete has a hotter hand than Chebet. The 24-year-old has had quite the spring in the Czech Republic, finishing sixth in the Prague Half in 69:24 on April 2 and then finishing third in the Prague Marathon on May 8 in 2:27:23, both times the fastest of her career.
On paper, Chebet’s primary competition would appear to be 28-year-old Kenyan Esther Chemtai Ndeima, who finished fourth in the 2014 Prague Half Marathon in a personal-best 69:49. But look for Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekele to be pushing for the victory. The 28-year-old ran a blazing 2:23:43 in the Dubai Marathon last year and opened 2016 with a solid seventh-place finish in 2:25:50 at the Tokyo Marathon.
Other women in contention figure to be Kenyans Lucy Wambui Murigi (70:52 PB), Janet Jelagat Rono (71:10 PB) and Sarah Jebet (debut) and Volha Mazuronak (72:02 PB) of Belarus. “In the women’s race I am expecting a definite challenge to the race record of 70:54” stated Jana Moberly, the elite athlete coordinator for the RunCzech Races.
Local rooting interest will be focused on Czech elite Jiří Homoláč who was forced to abort his attempt at Rio Olympic qualification last month at the Prague Marathon due to the hot conditions; and 43-year-old Petra Kamínková, the 41-time Czech national champion at distances from 1500m to the half marathon.
Joe Battaglia for the Organizers
|Name||Country||Half Marathon PB|
|Henry Rutto Kiplagat||KEN||1:00:01|
|Paul Kariuki Mwangi||KEN||1:01:31|
|Amos Kibiwot Kurgat||KEN||1:01:56|
|Abdelmajid El Hissouf||MAR||1:02:11|
|Paulo Roberto Paula||BRA||1:02:30|
|Name||Country||Half Marathon PB|
|Esther Chemtai Ndiema||KEN||1:09:49|
|Lucy Wambui Murigi||KEN||1:10:52|
|Janet Jelagat Rono||KEN||1:11:10|