Rotich and Kirwa favourites at Istanbul Half Marathon


Kenya's Edwin Kipsang Rotich winning at the Corrida Internacional de São Silvestre in Sã...
Kenya's Edwin Kipsang Rotich winning at the Corrida Internacional de São Silvestre in São Paulo on 31 December (PHOTO/IAAF/Sérgio Shibuya/Organizers)

Kenyan Edwin Rotich and 2016 Olympic marathon silver medallist Eunice Kirwa lead their respective fields at the Vodafone Istanbul Half Marathon on Sunday.

-Sub-60 the goal in the men’s contest-

Rotich ran his personal best of 59:32 in Valencia in October last year, and hasn’t competed in a half marathon since. However, the Kenyan showed good form when finishing in 46:46 at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miles in Washington DC earlier this month.

He will start as one of the favourites in Istanbul in a field that includes six men who have broken the event’s one-hour barrier.

Evans Kiplagat of Azerbaijan returns to run the city’s major half marathon for the third year in a row. His winning time of 1:00:13 from 2015 stands as the race record, though it is 17 seconds shy of his career best.

Adugna Takele, the fastest Ethiopian over the distance in 2016 with 59:40, is another outstanding name in the field. The 28-year-old crossed the finish line in 1:01:14 at the RAK Half Marathon in Ras al-Khaimah in February.

There were to be two more fast Ethiopians on the starting line, however, both Tamirat Tola and Guye Adola withdrew from the race due to injury and illness respectively.

Other leading names include Kenya’s Vincent Kipsegechi Yator, who has a best of 59:55 from 2015, and Morocco’s national record holder Aziz Lahbabi with 59:25.

Peter Kwemoi Ndorobo is not to be written off in the battle for victory on Sunday. The Kenyan ran exactly the same time in Ostia in 2016 and 2017, 1:00:13, which stands as his best.

Also lining up will be Tanzania’s Ismail Juma, who was ninth in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015.

-Kirwa vs Degefa – women’s race-

The women’s race will host Kirwa, the Rio 2016 Olympic marathon silver medallist, who also took bronze in the event at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.

The 32-year-old Bahraini clocked 1:08:07 in Marugame in February, her only half marathon this year.

However, the fastest woman on paper is Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia. The 27-year-old finished in a time of 1:06:14 in Prague last year to become the world all-time number 10 over the distance.

Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich has been a fast improver this year. Starting the year with 1:09:06 in Adana, she shaved off nearly a minute from that time to win in 1:08:08 in Paris in early March, following with an impressive 1:07:42 in Milan, another victory within the same month.

The next target for Chepngetich would the fourth win of the year with another improvement.

Hiwot Gebrekidan will also be setting her sights on a podium finish after she won her first ever half marathon, clocking 1:08:00 in Copenhagen last September.

The Ethiopian, who will celebrate her 22nd birthday two weeks after her second race over the distance, is one of the youngest elite women to run in Istanbul on Sunday.

-Özbilen and Aydemir carry local hopes-

After the withdrawal of the multiple European medallist Ali Kaya, Kaan Kigen Ozbilen will carry Turkish hopes on Sunday.

As Özbilen returns to action following an injury, he may not be in the same form that propelled him to a 59:58 performance in 2011, but he is among the athletes to watch for the home crowd.

In the Turkish women’s pack, a special mention goes to Esma Aydemir who placed fifth at last year’s European Athletics Championships with a career best time of 1:11:49.

The 25-year-old was also crowned the European 10,000m Cup winner in 2016. Then there is two-time Olympian Ozlem Kaya, European bronze medallist in the 3000m steeplechase, who will be attempting to run a fast time in the half marathon.

Although the forecast calls for unseasonably warm conditions, around 19 degrees at the start, organisers expect a sub-60-minute performance on the fast course, which would be the Turkish all-comers’ record.

The elite athletes will start at 08:45 local time this year with the mass race to follow 15 minutes later. The event also incorporates a 10k race.

-Report by the iaaf.org.

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