One of the most exclusive races in the distance-running calendar, the N Kolay Istanbul Half Marathon — a World Athletics Elite Label road race, will see the strongest field ever assembled in the event’s 16-year history on Sunday, with the spotlight firmly on the duel between the reigning world half-marathon record-holder Kibiwott Kandie and his predecessor Geoffrey Kamworor. With the two stalwarts set to renew their rivalry, it would not be an exaggeration to say that a couple of records could be fall by the wayside, especially since Kandie ended 2020 with a world record time of 57:32 in Valencia and ran three more races under 59 minutes in the pandemic-ravaged year.
For Kamworor, who set the previous record of 58:01 in Copenhagen in September 2019, it would be a return to big-time action after recovering from a surgery following a motorcycle mishap in June last year. He returned to the course at the Kenya Police Service Championships in January this year to bag his eighth successive title. Given the running-friendly conditions and the sublime form the two Kenyans are in, they could break the race record of 59:50 held by Amdework Walelegn of Ethiopia.
In fact, Walelegn, who won the 2018 edition, is himself a contender after the 22-year-old finished third with a personal-best time of 59:08 at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia last year. The Ethiopian then went on to improve his personal best to 58:53 at the Airtel Delhi Half-Marathon in November last year. The Istanbul Half Marathon will be Walelegn’s first race since the Delhi event and he is one of the favourites for a podium finish.
Another runner who could give the trio a tough challenge is Uganda’s Stephen Kissa who crossed the finish line in 1:00:34 at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships and then clocked a personal best of 58:56 at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in what was only his third appearance over the distance.
An interesting battle is also on the cards in the women’s section with the full-marathon world record holder, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, set to take on Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia, the second-fastest female half-marathon runner in history. The 27-year-old Kosgei holds the fastest time ever registered, 1:04:28, but that came at the 2019 edition of the Great North Run, which is a non-record-eligible course.
The elite field also has the likes of reigning world marathon champion from Kenya, Ruth Chepngetich, who has won the Istanbul event in 2017 and 2019 and is the owner of the race’s record with a time of 1:05:30. Chepngetich too will be competing for the first time since her outing in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon where she clocked a personal best of 1:05:06.