Athletics

Things you need to know about the 2020 World Half Marathon Championships 

World record holders Joshua Cheptegei, Ababel Yeshaneh, and Peres Jepchirchir are among the world’s top distance runners confirmed for the Championships in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday 17 October.

By Evelyn Watta ·

The World Half Marathon Championships, is the only World Athletics champs that will still go ahead in 2020, with all other events either cancelled or postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Initially scheduled for March 29 in the Northern Baltic coastal city of Gdynia, the men's and women's elite races will now be held on Saturday 17th October.

And they're packed with the big names of distance running.

As well as past winners returning to the event, recent athletics world record breakers including Joshua Cheptegei, Ababel Yeshaneh, and Peres Jepchirchir are among the stars hoping to make their mark on the beach in Poland.

There's also a top triathlete looking to make her mark.

Here's our guide to the key things you need to know ahead of the event.

Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda reacts after breaking the 5,000m world record on August 14 at the Monaco 2020 Diamond League.

The men's favourites at the World Half Marathon Championships

Uganda’s Cheptegei will undoubtedly start as men's race favourite, despite this being his debut at the World Half Championships. The 10,000m world champion has won all his four races in 2020 and set three world records.

During his stellar-track season, Cheptegei bettered the 5000m world record in Monaco, and went on to smash the long-standing 10,000m mark in Valencia.

He plans to doubling up and compete in both the track events at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The 24-year-old has never run competitively over the 21km, with his longest road event being 10 miles (16km) from 2018 in the Netherlands.

“What keeps me going is that every day I want to be the best,” he told the Olympic Channel on his 2020 plans. “Every day comes and presents an opportunity for me to become the best of the best."

Cheptegei's younger teammate Jacob Kiplimo,19, is also expected to be among the main contenders for medals in Gdynia.

He won his first 21k race at the 2019 Kampala marathon in 1:01.53.

A new men’s champion will be crowned in Poland. Could that be Kibiwott Kandie?

He comes into these Championships as the fastest man in the field over the distance, after his world leading time of 58:38 in September at the RunCzech half in Prague.

The 24-year-old Kenyan is fifth on the half marathon all-time list, and could pull off a surprise victory.

“I have trained hard in the past weeks under the guidance of my coach (John Korir). So the threat of Cheptegei is neither here nor there,” he was quoted as saying by Kenya’s The Star Newspaper.

Kandie will be hoping to clinch his nation’s fourth consecutive men’s title, and follow in the footsteps of three-time champion Geoffrey Kamworor, who had won every single title since 2014 but decided to skip this race.

Kamworor opted not to defend his title so that he can recover fully from injuries sustained in June, when he required surgery after being hit by a motorcycle during training in Kenya.

Other men looking to make a mark in Gdynia

Guye Adola, who clocked the fastest debut marathon in history as the 2017 Berlin Marathon runner-up in 2:03:46 behind the world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, is the third fastest among the men's entries.

The 59.06 runner leads a loaded field of six sub 60s Ethiopians.

Second placed Guye Adola(left) poses with 2017 Berlin marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge(centre) and third placed, Ethiopia's Mosinet Geremew.

Watch out for four-time Olympian Byron Piedra, one of the most celebrated Ecuadorian long-distance runners.

The 38-year-old multiple national record holder is still going strong as he looks to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

"Age is only a number, since it is sports performance that defines. - Byron Piedra.

"There are 33 or 34 years old athletes who have retired. I'm fine. " he told ESPN.

There is also Abraham Cheroben, the Asian record holder from Bahrain who holds a personal best of 58:40, and the European record holder Julien Wanders of Switzerland (59.13) who trains in Iten.

World record breaking women light up World Half Marathon Championships

The event boasts no less than four women who have set a half marathon world record during their careers.

The 2018 winner, Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta, is back seeking to defend her title from Valencia, where she also set the world record.

Peres Jepchirchir is also on the start list. She won the 2016 title in Cardiff and is fresh from setting the women-only world record of 1:05.34 for the half marathon in Prague at the start of September.

The other current 21km world record holder in the start list is Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh, holder of the women’s outright record of 1:04.31, her winning time from Ras Al Khaimah in February 2020.

She took that mark from Jocelyne Jepkosgei, who boasts a personal best of 1'04:51. She's also the reigning New York marathon champion.

Double world champion Sifan Hassan, who in September broke the rarely run one-hour record in Brussels, has opted out of the women's race.

"I want to make sure I will be in top shape physically and mentally next year at the Olympic Games," she said of her late withdrawal just days after breaking the European 10km record.

Also watch out for…

Annemari Kiekara, 43, Finland’s only entrant at the event.

She returns to the Championships after 22 years. She managed to shrug off injuries that weighed her down since her last global run in 2000.

““It took a really long time to fix my hamstrings. Physiotherapy initially didn’t help, so I underwent surgery in 2003,” she said in an interview. “I went on to have many more operations – four on my right hamstring and two on my left. Along with the injuries, I also took breaks from training when I had my children (born in 2004, 2007 and 2010).”

Kiekara, who will be among the oldest in Gdynia, is fresh from winning the Finnish 5000m. She has a personal best of 1:13:56 for the half marathon.

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, the first Israeli to win a gold medal at the European Athletics Championships in 2018 with victory in the 10,000m, will also be in action in the coastal city looking to improve on her 12th place from Valencia.

One of the exciting debutants is Vendula Frintova, a professional triathlete, and the Czech Republic’s best female triathlete ever. Running has been a long-term passion for the 2019 ITU World Cup winner and she will be able to finally test herself against some of the world’s best runners.

“For many years, I was one of the world leaders in triathlon, we do not have competitors from Kenya or Ethiopia, the opportunity to stand out there (in Poland) is greater,” Frintova, second in the national half marathon championships was quoted by Sports.CZ.

"As triathletes, we are more complex, we have more muscle than runners and those on the hill will help." - Triathlete Vendula Frintova on her World Half debut."

After Gdynia, the 37-year-old, who is eyeing her third Olympics in Tokyo, heads off to Valencia to compete at the ITU Triathlon World Cup in on November 7 and 8.

Facts and figures - History of World Half Marathon Championships

Kenya and Ethiopia have historically been the two most dominant nations at the Championships.

Kenya leads with 12 men’s gold and seven women’s individual titles from the last 22 editions of the World Half Marathon Championships.

Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, and Netherland’s Lornah Kiplagat are the most successful women in the Championships with a hat-trick of gold medals apiece.

Gudeta’s 1:06:11 is the fastest ever run by a woman at the event.

Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese ‘Mr. Half-Marathon’ remains the most successful athlete in the history of the World Half.

He won unprecedented five gold medals and set two world records over the distance.

Two-time Olympic silver medallist Paul Tergat of Kenya won consecutive titles in 1999 and 2000.

Kamworor who is also the world record holder (58.01), holds the men’s Championship record of 59.08 from his 2014 winning time, the first of his three titles.

Full entries and event schedule for 2020 World Half Marathon Championships (Times in CET)

A total of 62 teams will send athletes to Poland but several other countries, including the United States and Japan have opted out due to government travel advisories and safety due to Covid-19. Click here to download the full entry list by country (PDF).

The course and the finish area is located at the sandy beach of Gdynia in Poland, where the race takes place on Saturday 17th October.

11:00 Women’s elite race

12:30 Men’s elite race

Plans to hold a mass participation races were curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic, with organisers hosting a virtual competition for runners around the world instead.