World record-holders Cheptegei and Peres Jepchirchir lead the men and women's field on Saturday, October 17th in Gdynia, Poland.
Newly minted world record breaker Joshua Chepetegei was in a buoyant mood hours before his debut at the World Half Marathon Championships, very hopeful that he can crown his “best and fabulous season” with a road title.
Despite not having competed further than 16km, the Ugandan world 10,000m champion will start as one of the favourites for the men’s crown in the absence of Kenya’s three-time gold medallist Geoffrey Kamworor.
And he's ready and excited for the race in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday (17 October).
“I am a person of high talent and I can say it will be a nice challenge." - Joshua Cheptegei
Speaking at the event press conference ahead of the men’s and women’s 21km races, that are expected to be run in wet and rainy conditions in the Polish coastal city, Cheptegei said he is going for nothing short of victory.
“It’s not going to be disastrous and I hope the roads will treat me as well,” he said.
“It’s a new challenge for me but I am also hungry for the title. (if I win) it will be special for me.”
Chepetegei had a record-breaking start to the season, setting a new mark of 12:51 in a 5km road race in Monaco in February.
He now wants to wrap up his campaign with his fourth world title.
“Crowning the season with the title will be something special for me. Something that I had really prepared for, a debut and win? That would be more amazing.”
“I know it has come just a few days after my world record. I believe I am a person of high talent and I can say it will be a nice challenge. But I feel good, almost fully recovered and ready for the race and my debut,” he said.
“It’s been in my dream to run the half marathon. It was in my plan to do the world half marathon as part of my preparations towards the Olympics Games.”
Cheptegei, who plans to double up and compete in both the track events at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, is well aware of the challenge ahead.
Kenyans and Ethiopians have dominated the Championships and are tipped to extend their reign.
But after a feel of the course early Friday which he described as “a good and tough, with some hills and slopes,” Cheptegei predicts the race will go right down to the finish line,
“It’s not going to be disastrous (for me) and I hope the roads will treat me as well.”
“To them (Kenyans and Ethiopians) it matters, to me it’s a different kind of approach. I know it’s the first time that we (and compatriot Jacob Kiplimo) are running the half marathon distance. But if you look at the previous history I have been running the 15km. (Again) tomorrow it’s not the last time that we are going to run. We still (have) a couple of years and we don’t need to hang ourselves on the rope,” said Cheptegei, who took gold at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
If he wins, the reigning world cross country champion will become just the second man to clinch global titles on the track, road, and cross-country, joining Morocco's Khalid Skah.
Skah, the 1992 Olympic 10,000m champion, is also the last man to win the World Half on his debut at the distance in 1994.
“I have shone in cross country, I have shone on track, and shone when attacking world records. The only thing is to win a special title on the roads that will be really something special, classic.” - Joshua Cheptegei
The Ugandan superstar feels no pressure going into the race. In fact he is ruing the absence of some of the greatest distance runners.
Kenya's Kamworor opted out to recover fully after an accident, while several other nations did not send athletes to Poland due to government travel advisories and safety due to Covid-19.
“I have had the best, best and fabulous, the most amazing season of my life. I thought that last year was going to be a great year for me, but this year is far greater year (despite) the Covid," he said.
“ I was hoping to have a more exciting field. Of course we have the Kenyans, the Ethiopians but I am still surprised that Mo Farah is not part of the field. It is really ridiculous that he is not part of the field. It would be exciting that we have several (top) people and I would come here and (they would) treat me well because I am still new in the distance."
Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir is back chasing her second world half title after winning in 2016.
She took a break in 2018 to have her daughter, and is eager to reclaim her title.
"After Cardiff in 2016 (World Half), in 2017 I ran a world record that lasted for a month. After that God blessed me with a daughter, Natalia, who is turning three years-old this month. It took me two years to come back,” she said in her pre-race press conference.
“And (then) last month in Prague I ran the only women world record. Now I am back I have come back in good shape like I was before.”
Despite the expected chilly weather conditions, the 27-year-old, who holds the women-only world record of 1:05.34, described the women’s field as possibly one of the best ever assembled in recent times, capable of lowering her mark.
"There is high expectations for the time tomorrow because we have strong athletes Ababel (Yeshaneh), Netsanet (Gudeta), and Joyciline Jepkosgei...,"said Jepchirchir.
"May be the world record can fall also (because) the team here is strong." - Peres Jepchirchir
Kenya's Jepkosgei is a former women’s world record holder and is the reigning New York marathon champion.
Ethiopia’s Gudeta is the 2018 winner while her compatriot Ababel Yeshaneh, holds the women’s outright record of 1:04.31.