Nairobi — Olympic champion Peres Jepchir showed a character of a champion when she sprinted to victory a in women’s half marathon to lead a Kenyan podium sweep at World Road Running Championships in Latvia, Riga.
Jepchirchir clocked a course record of 1:07:25 to beat compatriot Margaret Chelimo who clinched silver in 1:07:26 while Catherine Reline took bronze in 1:07:34.
“I wanted to win three times and make history, and thank God I have made it,” said Jepchirchir. “It was my birthday this week and I told my husband I would work extra hard to get the win.”
Jepchirchir led Kenya to a decisive victory in the team title, their first since 2016, when they also swept the medal positions. Their top three had a cumulative time of 3:22:25, with Ethiopia second with 3:27:55 and Great Britain and Northern Ireland claiming bronze with 3:29:15.
“I am so happy for team Kenya,” said Jepchirchir. “I knew we would sweep this as a team because I trust my colleagues so much.”
On a cool, sunny afternoon in the Latvian capital, Jepchirchir once again played a very patient game, the Olympic marathon champion and women-only half marathon world record holder content to let the pace remain steady through much of the race, knowing she possessed a gear no one else could live with when it counted most.
The early pace was relatively pedestrian, with a group of 22 hitting the 5km mark clustered together, led by Britain’s Samantha Harrison in 16:25. But that pack began to whittle soon after, with a group of eight passing 10km in 32:19.
Jepchirchir, Chelimo Kipkemboi and Reline Amanang’ole took turns at the front soon after, with British duo Harrison and Calli Thackery also putting in a shift in the breezy conditions. But in the third quarter, Harrison and Thackery began to lose contention while the Kenyans started to apply pressure up front, Amanang’ole passing 15km in 48:33 and six athletes left in the battle for the podium positions.
That was soon down to five, with Ethiopia’s Ftaw Zeray dropping away. Jepchirchir ran at the back of the pack as they approached 20km, marking her opponents’ every move. But as they ran through the old town and back towards the finish, alongside the River Daugava, Jepchirchir began to take closer order, with just one Ethiopian, Tsigie Gebreselama, sandwiched among the four Kenyans.
The 20km mark, reached in 1:04:20, was Jepchirchir’s cue to make her first big effort, surging to the front and quickly checking the effect on her rivals, with only her compatriot Irine Jepchumba Kimais dropping away. But with Kipkemboi soon taking up the pace, the Kenyans swiftly had what they wanted – with Gebreselama dropping off the leading trio.
Leading into the wind in the final kilometre, Kipkemboi began to veer around the road, hoping for assistance from those behind, but by then it was every woman for themselves, Jepchirchir smartly sitting in her teammate’s slipstream until she drew inside the final 400 metres, at which point she unleashed that renowned change of pace, surging to gold.
“When I saw the tape, I started celebrating,” said Jepchirchir, who admitted she couldn’t sleep the night before as she was worried about the race. But with another global title in the bag, she has big plans for the year ahead.
“Next month I’m going to run the New York City Marathon,” said Jepchirchir, who will then train her sights on retaining her Olympic marathon title. “That’s my prayer; I pray to God for good health to get that chance. I will try my best.”
Silver medallist Chelimo Kipkemboi said: “It was great to run with Peres today. I am always proud to run for Kenya. I was fourth at the World Championships on the track so to get a medal today is very special. It’s very nice to see that I’m progressing and next, I will race the Valencia Half Marathon.”
Amanang’ole was content with her bronze, saying: “It was a very tough race but I’m super excited because it is my first time running this event.”