Kenya will field an under-strength women’s team at this weekend’s World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia following the withdrawal of Fancy Chemutai and Mary Wacera.
Chemutai, the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon champion and Wacera, the 2016 World Half Marathon bronze medallist’s exit leaves the defending champions with only three athletes in the women’s race including world half marathon record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei, Ruth Chepg’etich and Pauline Kaveke.
An attempt by Athletics Kenya to have Joan Chelimo enlisted by the IAAF in place of the duo hit a snag since the final registration by name was done on Monday last week.
Despite the withdraws, Kenya still carries the favourites tag under the leadership of Jepkosgei, owing to her recent exploits in road races. She returns to Valencia, the same city, where she lowered the world record to 1:04:51 last year. Despite her credentials and such a magnificent 2017, which also included a 10km world record, it is not a foregone conclusion that Jepkosgei will take her first world title. Lately, She has been far from invincible especially after finishing fifth at the RAK Half Marathon last month.
The Kenyan trio will face stiff competition from Kenyan-born Bahraini Eunice Chumba, who set an Asian record of 1:06:11 when winning in Copenhagen last September. She will be bidding to become her country’s first ever medallist at the championships although her form since the start of the year has been a little bit less formidable having managed sixth position in Houston and then a relatively modest 11th at the RAK Half Marathon.
Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta was the country’s leading finisher in 2014 and 2016, finishing sixth and fourth respectively. On both occasions, she led her country to team silver medals and therefore can’t be discounted from medal consideration especially after her most recent half marathon outing in Delhi last November, resulted in a personal best of 1:07:26. The fastest European in the field is local Spanish star Trihas Gebre.
In the men’s category, there was also a change as Alex Oloitiptip replaced two-time World Half Marathon silver Bedan Karoki before the final entries deadline. Oloitiptip impressed when finishing third in Copenhagen in September with a personal best of 58:51 but his two half marathon outings so far in 2018 have been much more modest.
Defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor will be looking for a hat-trick of titles at the event. After finishing sixth in the stunningly high-quality 10,000m field at IAAF World Championships London last summer, he notched up a win at the New York City Marathon in November.
In the last few weeks, he has sharpened up on home soil with two very good cross country wins including taking his national title in 28:32. Each country will field five athletes with three to score for the team titles where Kenya will defending both titles.