Returning champions at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race, Lydia Cheromei and Philemon Limo are the early starter and late developer (in that order), and the ever personable Decathlon master, Roman Sebrle will not mind us having a mild joke at his expense.
Cheromei has a record that is unlikely ever to be bettered, winning the World junior Cross Country title at the age of 13 back in 1991. After an on-off development as a senior, which included two Olympic appearances, sixth in the 10,000m in Sydney 2000, she took to the Marathon seriously in 2008.
Now 34, she has a six year old daughter, and an impressive road running record, which includes victory and a course record, of 1:07:33 here last year which she followed up with more of the same, ie another win and course record, of 2:22:34 in the Prague Marathon last May.
She has since reduced that to 2:21:30 (in Dubai in January), and says, “All I’ve done since then is train for Prague. Sometimes I train in Eldoret, and sometimes in Iten (both focal towns for Kenyan distance runners), and mostly with Mary Keitany (fourth fastest woman in history, 2:19:19)."
“I ran away from the others in the middle of the race last year, so maybe if we have a good race, we can run faster than last year.”
In contrast to the 20-plus year career (so far) for Cheromei, last year’s men’s winner Limo has only been training seriously since 2009, inspired by stories of the steeplechase success of his ‘young father’ (uncle) Christopher Kipsang. A policeman from Marakwet, Limo was almost immediately successful, placing highly in local road and Cross Country races.
“But I started having international success in 2010,” he said at today’s (Thursday, 29) press conference. “I won two big races in France (Rennes 10k and Marseille-Cassis)."
“I’m glad to come back to Prague, I like this place,” he said in something of an understatement. Like Cheromei he had two wins and two course records here last year – the ‘half’ in 59:30, his and the race’s first sub-60, followed by a win the 10k in June, in 27:34.
“It depends on the weather on Saturday, last year was quite tough, but with Kenneth here this year, maybe we can go even faster than 59:30.”
He was referring to Kenneth Kiprop Kipkemoi, fastest man in the field with his 59:11 in Den Haag, but that was only three weeks ago. “You know anything can happen in athletics, three weeks does not sound like a long time, but I think I can run well here too,” said Kipkemoi.
Long-term plans to bring the fastest man in history at 10k/15k on the roads, Leonard Komon, here were scuppered at the 11th hour, when he fell sick this week, potentially with malaria, and had to go to hospital for two days.
But Olympic and World champ, and World record holder (for the Decathlon) raced to fill his place - at the press conference. Sebrle will run in the five kilometre event. “It’s a good distance for me to train for the 1000 and 1500 metres,” he said this morning. “So this is serious, it’s part of my Olympic preparation. I’ve just spent two months training in the US, and ran 19:30, but that was in 30(C) degrees heat. It’s supposed to be much colder here on Saturday, around 10 degrees, but if there is no wind, I hope to run 21mins, and 20:30 would be great.”
The Prague events continue to burgeon; there are over 11,000 entrants for the Half Marathon on Saturday, beginning at midday, the largest field ever assembled. That includes another Czech sports star, former footballer Pavel Nedved, who will run the ‘half. But at the sharp end, there are ten sub-62 men, with four under the hour; and five women who have bettered 70 minutes.
Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF