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Olomouc, Czech Republic, June 20, 2014 -- One by one, three of the leading marathon runners in the world took hold of the microphone and uttered an answer that made you wonder if there was an echo in the room.
"It has not yet been confirmed," they each said, responses that eventually drew laughter.
While Kenyans Wilson Kipsang, Dennis Kimetto and Edna Kiplagat were not yet prepared to offer insight into their start line destinations this autumn, all three were in agreement that a big step along their way will be Saturday's Mattoni Olomouc Half-Marathon, the fifth race in the RunCzech series, which they have chosen as their first significant races coming off the spring racing season.
"I'm really pleased to also be able to run my first race in the Czech Republic," Kipsang said. "It's going to be great preparation for my next marathon in the autumn. "I want to run fast."
Expected ideal conditions at the 7:00 p.m. local start--the race will be livestreamed with English commentary here www.sport.cz/videoprenos/olomouc-- coupled with the collection of top-end talent, unprecedented in the 20-year history of the RunCzech organization, could make for fast times.
Kipsang, who set the world record of 2:03:23 in Berlin last September, and Kiplagat, the first woman to win back-to-back marathon at the World Championships, are each coming off spectacular victories in the Virgin London Marathon in April.
"As soon as we spotted them both cross the finish line at this year's London Marathon, we knew they’d be coming here, to the Czech Republic," Carlo Capalbo, president of the RunCzech organizing committee, said. "It's another dream come true for us."
The fastest half marathons ever run on Czech soil are 58:47 by Atsedu Tsegay of Ethiopia in 2012 and 1:06:18 by Joyce Chepkirui of Kenya this past April, both in Prague. The event records are 1:00:44 for men and 1:10:38 for women.
So a logical question being asked on the eve of the race is whether this historical capital city of Moravia, which has seen Franz Joseph I ascended to the throne of Emperor of Austria, Mozart compose his Symphony No. 6 in F major at age 11, and Pope John Paul II canonize two saints, witness more history?
"I understand it is a new course but I believe it is possible," Kiplagat said of the race's record potential.
Kipsang, now five years removed from running his half-marathon personal best of 58:59 in Ras Al Khaimah, also believes he has a fast time in him.
"Despite the fact that I have done a lot of marathons, I am still strong and fast enough now," he said. "I think I still have the speed to run under 59."
While all will be looking to run fast, records won't necessarily be the order of the day.
At this stage of the season, with fall marathon ramp up beginning, this race will serve as a gauge for the elite runners before moving into the rigors of summer training.
Kipsang said he will be looking to measure his speed relative to the work he has put in since finishing in 2:04:29 in London.
"I can say that this race is very important, especially for athletes who are preparing for their next marathon because after the previous marathon, recovery, and training this is the first chance to see how your shape is and how best you can perform in the half marathon," he said. "You can then go back and see what areas you have to improve, but mainly for the speed. When it comes to the half-marathon, we are dealing mainly with the speed. If you have enough speed for a good half-marathon, then you just have to work on the endurance part."
Kiplagat, who crossed first in London in 2:20:21, said how her body responds to racing again will determine the next course she and her husband/coach Gilbert Koech will take in training.
"I will learn if my body has recovered from my previous marathon or not," Kiplagat said. "After I run this race, it will show my how I have done in my training or what I have to do during my training before I have to go to my next marathon. My body is going to analyze what I need to do so I don't over-do the training before I go to a fall marathon."
For Kimetto this is a first step back after injury. The 30-year-old was forced to drop out of April's Boston Marathon after 30 kilometers due to a hamstring issue that resurfaced. According to his manager, Gerard van de Veen, at the urging of Kipsang, Kimetto received proper treatment from his personal physio, and he appears to have regained full health.
"The leg bothered me in Boston but it is now okay," Kimetto, whose victory in Chicago last year in 2:03:45 stands as the third-fastest time ever on a record-eligible course, said. "Everything is okay."
Kimetto provided anecdotal evidence to support that claim, saying he and Kipsang finished together on Monday in the grueling "End of the Road" workout, where upward of 400 men convene at the end of a road session where the paved tarmac ends and the dirt and gravel road begins, and continue running for 90 minutes at increasing pace until only the best of the best are left at the conclusion.
What that translates to remains to be seen.
"Performances in training don’t really show much, don't prove much in the race," he said. "Sometimes, you might be very strong in training but then when it comes to racing you might not be too fast. In every training, we try to assist one another and to push each other but when you get to the race it takes a lot of things to win."
When asked if he felt he could beat Kipsang, Kimetto answered in Swahili.
"He's not sure," Kipsang translated, with a grin.
Photo: Wilson Kipsang at the press conference prior to the 2014 Mattoni Olomouc Half-Marathon in the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy of RunCzech.com.
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