Defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya headlines the fastest field assembled for a women’s race in the world this year, while Kenya’s Stanley Biwott will face a stiff challenge in his tune up for the Rio Olympic marathon this summer during the seventh edition of the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon on June 25.
With four women boasting personal bests under 67 minutes and a whopping nine men who have covered 13.1 miles faster than 61 minutes in the careers, this race promises to be one of the can’t-miss running events on the 2016 global road racing calendar.
The Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon is the fifth of seven races in the RunCzech Running League. All seven races in the RunCzech Running League have been awarded Gold Labels, giving the country the most top-level road races in the world.
“On June 25, the city of Olomouc will once again become the center of the road running universe as we bring together this great field of elite athletes and an active and welcoming community for the Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon and the dm Family Run,” Carlo Capalbo, the President of the RunCzech Organizing Committee, said.
“The Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon is one of the most loved races in the spring running season. I can’t wait to see the genuine expressions of joy from children and their parents at the dm family run, followed by some excellent sporting performances by the participating elite runners”.
The city of Olomouc, home to six UNESCO world heritage sites, is situated 288 kilometers (179 miles) southeast of the Czech capital of Prague. This largest running event in the picturesque winemaking region of Moravia will see 6200 runners embark from historic Horni Square at sunset on a charming race course that will take them through lush green parks and on quaint roads before a number of stunning examples of Baroque architecture.
The same mild weather that produces the dry Moravian wines also creates ideal racing conditions for elite athletes, which has made Olomouc in recent years an early-summer racing destination for some of the world’s leading marathoners, including current and former world record holders Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2013 world champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, and two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya.
It was that same allure that brought Keitany, the two-time London Marathon and 2014 New York City Marathon champion, to Olomouc last June. Paced by her husband, Charles Koech, Keitany mounted an all-out assault on Kiplagat’s course record, opening with a 15:16 first 5K and continuing to pour on the speed until she crossed in 1:06:38, an astounding 2:15 faster than the previous course mark.
After that race, the 34-year-old Keitany said she hoped to come back in preparation for the Rio Games. But the former world record holder in the half marathon, is only an alternate on the Kenyan Olympic team and her title defense would seem to be carrying less weight. However, Keitany did not race well in April’s London Marathon, finishing ninth in 2:28:30 and is looking to rebound with a strong performance as a springboard into training for the fall marathon season.
But Keitany’s road to a repeat victory will not be easy as the race organizers have compiled the deepest field in the history of the race to oppose her. All totaled, eight women in the elite field have broken 71 minute for the half.
Leading that group of women will be 25 year-old Violah Jepchumba of Kenya, who in April stunned the road racing world with her victory in the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in 1:05:51, the third fastest time in history. Only Florence Kiplagat (65:09) and Keitany (65:50) have ever run faster. Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa, the 2014 Prague Half champion and runner-up to Jepchumba in 1:06:14, and Kenya’s Joyce Chepkirui, twice the Honolulu Marathon champion and owner of a 1:06:18 PB, are equally capable of challenging for the top spot on the podium.
Also running among the elite women will be Eva Vrabcova, a three-time winter Olympian in cross-country skiing who in May qualified for the Czech Olympic team for Rio when she finished sixth in the Volkswagen Prague Marathon in 2:30:10. Vrabcova, who will become the 133rd athlete and third Czech woman to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, is using this race to prepare for next month’s European Championships in Amsterdam as well as Rio.
“The Czech Republic will see for the first time in history, four women who rank in the Top 10 all-time in the half marathon,” elite athlete coordinator Jana Moberly said. “Mary Keitany, Violah Jepchumba, Worknesh Degefa, Joyce Chepkirui. Although all four of these women have run well in RunCzech races in the past, we have never seen such a deep field in one RunCzech race. Now they will all start in Olomouc, and with them our Czech star Eva Vrabcova. This is a dream start list.”
As stellar as the women’s lineup is, the men’s field might actually be even deeper with potential contenders.
All eyes, of course, will be on the 30-year-old Biwott, whose rapid ascent up the road racing charts has landed him a coveted spot on the Kenyan Olympic team. In 2013, Biwott clocked 58:56 in a runner-up finish at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon and a year later finished runner-up in the London Marathon. Last year, Biwott claimed his first Abbott World Marathon Majors victory at the New York City Marathon (2:10:34), and in April he finished runner-up to Eliud Kipchoge in the London Marathon in a personal-best 2:03:51.
To claim victory in Olomouc, Biwott is going to have to contend with a slew of Kenyan sub-60 half marathoners.
Leading that group will be Geoffrey Ronoh, who as the personally-hired pacer for Kimetto and Kipsang in 2014 stunned those two to win the race in course-record 1:00:17. Ronoh, who has lowered his PB to 59:45, was unable to defend his title last year due to injury.
Cyprian Kotut, the younger brother of three-time London and two-time New York City Marathon champion Martin Lel, who is coming off a victory in April’s Paris Marathon in a personal-best 2:07:13. Kotut ran his half marathon PB of 59:12 in New Delhi two years ago.
The list of contenders also includes Robert Chemosin, who ran his PB of 59:19 in Rome in 2013; Richard Mengich, who bounced back from injury in April to win the Berlin Half Marathon in 59:58 then lowered that PB to 59:35 in defending his Gothenburg Half Marathon a month later; and David Kogei, who ran his PB of 59:46 in Berlin last year.
Additionally, Josphat Kiptis is back to defend his title. Last year, the 22-year-old added yet another shocking result to Olomouc lore when as a RunCzech Racing Team development athlete he stunned headliners Kipsang and Kiprotich to win the race in 1:00:21.