Reigning champion Taye Girma of Ethiopia will return to the Chinese city of Changzhou eyeing to retain his title at the 2019 Changzhou West Taihu Lake Half Marathon, an IAAF bronze label road race, on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Girma scored a 1:03:04 victory to set the course record in the southeastern city last October, one month before achieving his personal best of 1:00:55 when taking top honours in Boulogne-Billancourt.
Most recently, the 2018 Ethiopian national 10,000 m champion clocked 1:02:52 to finish ninth at the Venloop Half Marathon in March.
Girma’s countryman Asefa Tefera is the fastest entrant on paper with a PB of 1:00:07 set in his runner-up finish in Istanbul last year. Although the 22-year-old was only 18th in February’s Ras Al Khaimah half in 1:02:44, he improved his marathon career best to 2:07:56 at the Lake Biwa Marathon one month later in Japan.
Kenya’s Edwin Kiptoo, 31, also improved his marathon PB this year, clocking 2:10:17 to finish fourth in Madrid. Kiptoo has not won any half marathon title since his victory at the Zwolle Half Marathon in 2013, but managed to improved his life-time best time to 1:00:11 in 2015 and claimed the Beirut Marathon title with 2:13:14 the following year.
The field also includes Derara Hurisa of Ethiopia, a 1:01:45 performer who has already run two half marathon races this year in Paris and Kiev, finishing second on both occasions.
With the absence of defending champion and course record holder Hosea Kiprotich Rutto, Kenya’s Mercy Kibarus will be the top returnee in the women’s race.
The 35-year-old Kibarus clocked 1:12:56 to finish second in Changzhou last year, falling eight seconds behind Rutto’s course record and more than four minutes shy of her personal best of 1:08:18 set back in 2013 at the Roma-Ostia Half Marathon.
Kibarus clocked 1:08:42 to finish fifth at the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen and has yet to run a half marathon race so far in 2019.
The 23-year-old Zinash Mekonnen could be the biggest threat to Kibarus on Sunday. The rising Ethiopia set her half marathon PB of 1:08:30 last March in Valencia and improved her career best over the classic distance to 2:25:42 in Seoul this year.
Etagegn Woldu, also from Ethiopia, is another sub-70 minutes runner toeing the line. The 23-year-old cut a figure early on the international stage, finishing third in the U20 race at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships. Last year she set a half marathon PB of 1:09:22 to finish fifth in Istanbul, one month after taking a 1:11:27 victory in Lisbon.