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Prague Half Marathon To Kick Off 7-Race Gold Label Race Series

When the starting pistol fires Saturday to signal the start of the 18th annual Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon, it will also mark the commencement of the first event of the 7-race RunCzech Running Race Series. For the first time, the entire Series will carry the coveted IAAF Gold Label – the highest award given to long distance road races by the sport’s governing body. Gold label classification is a most exclusive distinction. And Prague – with its three Series races so recognized with this honor, more than any other city – can now be celebrated as the most decorated city in road racing.

It was against this impressive backdrop that the pre-race press conference was held today in the Cloud 9 Club – high atop the Prague Hilton, overlooking the Vltava River which flows through this iconic European capital.

With the IAAF Half Marathon World Championship Race held last Saturday in Cardiff, Wales, it could be expected that the normally talented and deep Prague field would be depleted. Not so. In the men’s race, last year’s half marathon world leader [at 59:10] Abraham Cheroben and Prague defending champion Daniel Wanjiru highlight an elite field that will include 5 athletes who have broken one hour and another 11 who raced the distance in under 61 minutes. [By comparison, only 3 Americans have broken 1:01:00 – ever.] On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa – who captured the 2015 Prague crown in 1:07:14 – will defend her title against a loaded field that will see 6 elite female racers with PR’s under 1:10 toe the line. Degefa – who has already run 1:07:08 this year – is expected be challenged by countrywoman Afera Godfay, last year’s 5th place finisher.

Pre-race conversations with several of the favorites provided helpful insights on the upcoming race. While his natural shyness and the language barrier impeded more effective communication, Abraham Cheroben quietly let it be known he is in good shape and ready to race. While his sidestep pass on Cardiff’s World Half Marathon Championship last weekend puzzled many, it was clear to Cheroben and his handlers felt that Kenya’s murky and often-unpredictable method of selecting its Olympic athletes made this weekend’s Prague Half Marathon the better venue to showcase his talents. Like many half marathon specialists, the likeable Cheroben – last year’s half marathon world leader at 59:10 – is seeking the best way to get to Rio. Is it the 10,000 meters or the marathon? Cheroben believes his better opportunity is in the track event where he seeks to lop off time from his current PR.

Kenneth Keter, a Run Czech athlete who has lowered his PR to 59:28 assessed his chances at the press conference. “I plan to run in the lead pack for the first 15 kilometers and then I hope to be able to make the move to win the race,” explained Keter who, at 19, is the youngest elite athlete in the field. Since joining the RunCzech Racing Team, Keter has lowered his half marathon PR from 62:29 to an IAAF Gold Medal clocking of 59:28. The up-and-coming star – who credits the facility, support, training regimen provided by the RunCzech Racing Team for his stunning improvement – is unfazed by the prospects of a quick past pace on this historically-fast course. “If they want to run 58 minute pace, I am ready to run 58 minutes,” declared the confident young Kenyan.

Cheroben and Keter are not the only threats in this deep field. The elite men would be reckless to rule out challenges from at least two other Kenyan’s: last year’s defending champion Daniel Wanjiru who grabbed the 2015 title in 59:51; and Peter Kirui who has clocked 59:22 and has demonstrated 10,000 meter speed.

The women’s race was earlier thought to be a two-athlete struggle between Kenya’s Worknesh Degefa and Portugal’s Sara Moreira. But Moreira is coming back from an injury and openly confessed at the press conference that she is not fit enough to match Degefa’s anticipated 67 minute pace. Moreira – the best Portuguese female distance runner since the legendary Rosa Mota – drew attention last fall when she ran even splits to finish 4th in New York City Marathon in 2:25:53. With the Olympic standard in hand, the Portuguese star – who is making her marathon buildup for Rio a top 2016 priority – is expected to run honorably, but not ferociously, on Saturday. Degefa, on the other hand, is quiet, but supremely confident. She already has rung up two 2016 races under 1:08 – including a 1:07:08 which is #8 on this year’s world list. When asked what she expects to run on Saturday, Degefa – whose husband is here to handle the elite women’s pacing chores – didn’t hesitate. “66,” she promptly responded.

Many local eyes may be trained on Czech favorite Eva Vrabcova. With fellow Czech Anezka Drahotova – a former world junior champion in the 20 kilo race walk and the top Czech female finisher in last year’s race – out with an injury, Saturday could be Vrabcova’s chance to shine. A three-time Olympian in cross country skiing, Vrabcova has not been coy about her 2016 goal. She would like to make the Czech summer Olympic team as a marathoner, thereby joining a very select group of only 7 global athletes who have participated in both the summer and winter Olympic Games in the modern era.

So the table is set: superb weather conditions; a beautiful, historic course which has proven to generate fast times; and top flight global competitors in both the men’s and women’s elite competitions. And Saturday we will see if the world class athletes who bypassed the Cardiff global championship to race in this historic and picturesque European capital can churn out gold medal performances worthy of this Gold Label race.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

2020 Mid-American Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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