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By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

RIGA (30-Sep) -- Paula Radcliffe has done it, and so has Tegla Loroupe and Lornah Kiplagat.  Can reigning Olympic Marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir join three of history's greatest distance runners as a three-time winner of the World Athletics Road Running Championships in the half-marathon*?  That is certainly her intention here on Sunday.

"I know it's not easy and I know the competition is high," the petite Kenyan told reporters in a press conference here yesterday.  She continued: "I can say I will try my best on Sunday."

Jepchirchir, 30, is a two-time gold medalist at these championships and also the defending champion.  She first won in Cardiff, Wales, in pouring rain in 2016, clocking 1:07:31.  She came back in Gdynia, Poland, in 2020 --during the height of the pandemic before any of the vaccines were available-- in 1:05:16.  The Gdynia performance set the stage for her dominating win at the Tokyo Olympic Marathon (relocated to Sapporo) where she beat former world record holder and Kenyan teammate Brigid Kosgei by 16 seconds.

Jepchirchir knows Loroupe, personally, the first African woman to win a big city marathon who twice set the marathon world record.

"Tegla Loroupe inspired me so much," Jepchirchir said, explaining that she had spoken to the Kenyan icon in advance of these championships.  She refused to say what advice she may have received.  "That's my secret," she said, prompting laughs from the gallery.

While not prized as highly as an Olympic gold medal or a world title on the track, winning a half-marathon world championships is still a formidable achievement for a distance runner.  It's one of the few half-marathons where athletes prepare for it as an important goal, instead of as a preparation event for an upcoming marathon.  The depth of competition is significant.  Although the start list has not been finalized, about 70 women from over 30 countries will start here on Sunday.

"World Half was really important to me," explained Paula Radcliffe in a text message to Race Results Weekly.  "First one in Veracruz (Mexico) 2000 was my first senior title and off the back of Olympic 4th (place) disappointment over 10,000m in Sydney.  It was the catalyst for me to move to the roads and the marathon.  I really loved the road and found the correlation from cross country mindset to my liking.  World Half laid the race foundations on the road, I believe for me, to have success in the marathon."

After having a dream season in 2021 where she not only won the Olympic title but also the TCS New York City Marathon exactly three months later, Jepchirchir had some bad luck in 2022 after winning the Boston Marathon in April.  She got an unlikely tear in her gluteus muscle --possibly as the result of a too-aggressive massage-- and was unable to defend her title in New York.  She rallied back last April at the TCS London Marathon where she finished third in 2:18:38 after leading most of the race.  She was out-sprinted by both Dutchwoman     Sifan Hassan and Ethiopian Alemu Megertu just before the finish.  She admitted that she was not yet at full strength in London.

"You know last year I get an injury," Jepchirchir said.  "I was coming back from injury when I was running the London Marathon."

Jepchirchir plans to be in New York again in November, and her solo 1:06:45 at the Great North Run on September 10 demonstrated that she's fit and ready to run here in Riga.  She said that Sunday's race was an integral part of her New York City Marathon build-up.

"I can say this is part of my preparation, too, for the marathon," she said.

Jepchirchir is part of a strong Kenyan team which is led by Irine Kimais who has the fastest personal best in the field: 1:04:37.  

"I can say, like Kenya, we are a strong team," she said.  She added: "I know we are going to perform well.  We believe in ourselves as a team."

- - - - - -

The World Athletics Road Running Championships will incorporate three distances: one mile, 5 kilometers and the traditional half-marathon.  Prize money will be paid for all three events for both men and women, with the mile and 5-K winners getting USD 10,000 and the half-marathon winners receiving USD 30,000 (there is no team prize money this year).  

Any athlete setting a World Athletics record will receive USD 50,000 if the record is ultimately ratified.  That's a very likely occurrence in both of the road miles where the standing world records are a modest 4:01.21 for men and 4:27.97 for women.  With multiple world record holder Faith Kipyegon of Kenya competing, it's almost a certainty in the women's mile. The other existing records are:

5-K: Men, 12:49; Women, 14:29 (women-only race)
Half-Marathon: Men, 57:31; Women, 1:05:16 (women-only race)

The championships records are 58:49 (Jacob Kiplimo, UGA, 2020), and 1:05:16 (Peres Jepchirchir, KEN, 2020).