Six to watch at the World Half Marathon Championships

We pick out some of the top contenders at this weekend’s World Half in Bulgaria

Zersenay Tadese (Mark Shearman)

Now a biennial event, the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships returns this weekend after a two-year break with the Bulgarian coastal town of Kavarna playing host.

At the last edition in 2010, half-marathon king Zersenay Tadese was denied a fifth successive title as he suffered a surprise defeat to Kenya’s Wilson Kiprop. The defending champion will not be in Kavarna on Saturday, but his country has fielded formidable teams for both the men’s and women’s races.

Here we look at the top three contenders in both races.

Zersenay Tadese (ERI)

His name has become synonymous with the half-marathon distance, such is the world record-holder’s dominance over 13.1miles. Tadese is the most successful athlete in the history of the World Half, winning four consecutive golds between 2006-2009. Now aged 30, the Eritrean has been in good form this year. In March he was a comfortable winner of the Lisbon Half in 59:34, and at the Olympics he finished sixth over 10,000m.

Stephen Kibet (KEN)

The seventh-fastest man in history, Kibet boasts the quickest season’s best of all this year’s entrants. That performance, 58:54, came when winning this year’s City Pier City race in The Hague earlier this year. More recently he was third in a high-quality seven-mile race in Falmouth. The 25-year-old has won his past five half-marathons and will not want to let that record slip.

Eliud Kipchoge (KEN)

One of the more exciting entrants for this year’s race, Kipchoge is better known for his exploits on the track. The 2003 world 5000m champion made a remarkable debut over 13.1 miles last month, clocking 59:25 to finish third in Lille. The two Kenyans who finished ahead of him on that occasion will not be in Kavarna. And if it came down to a sprint finish, the 12:46 5000m man will be a strong force.

Shalane Flanagan (USA)

The 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist has in recent years ventured out on to the roads. After a superb marathon debut in 2010 with a second-place finish in New York, Flanagan has notched up a consistent record over both the half-marathon and full distance. The 31-year-old, who took bronze at last year’s World Cross, was disappointed with her 10th-place finish in this year’s Olympic marathon and will be looking to become the USA’s first female medallist in this event.

Pasalia Kipkoech (KEN)

Based on recent form, the Kenyan looks to be the marginal favourite, especially after the late withdrawal of Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse. Her 67:17 PB in August makes her the fastest on paper and she also boasts a speedy 30:57 clocking over 10km from earlier this year. The former world youth 3000m bronze medallist has smashed her half-marathon PB by more than two minutes this year and there could be more to come.

Priscah Cherono (KEN)

She may be the slowest of the Kenyan women’s team – which is a more a reflection of their depth than anything else – but Cherono has only once before competed over the half-marathon, which is what makes her such an exciting prospect. The former World Cross silver medallist ran 68:35 last month to finish third in Lille, marking a promising move to the roads for the 32-year-old. Previously known as a track specialist, she boasts PBs of 8:29.06 for 3000m and 14:35.30 for 5000m.

And the Brits…

Britain has not sent a men’s team to this year’s World Half, and will instead be represented by three women. And with countries like Ethiopia and Japan sending slightly weaker teams than in the past, there could be an outside chance for a podium finish in the team race.

Gemma Steel – perhaps best known for finishing ahead of Paula Radcliffe in last year’s Bupa London 10,000 – is the fastest on paper, following her recent 70:46 PB at the Great North.

Caryl Jones has been one of the revelations of the domestic road-running scene this year and has improved her half-marathon PB by more than five minutes in 2012, bringing it down to 71:18.

Susan Partridge is the most experienced of the British trio in Kavarna, having previously represented Britain at the World Half, World Championships, European Championships and Commonwealth Games. She too has been in PB form this year, running a 71:34 PB in Bath.

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