Kenyan runners face-off in quest for Copenhagen half marathon crown

Nairobi: Former Chicago marathon silver medallist Sammy Kitwara of Kenya will face a daunting task in his quest to conquer the Copenhagen half marathon on Sunday.

Kitwara, who again hopes to compete at the Chicago marathon in October, will come up against defending champion Bedan Karoki and a horde of elite Kenyan athletes as they target to lower the course record and make an attempt on the world record, reports Xinhua.

Kitwara's time of 2:04:28 hours is the fastest he has run in the 42km distance.

"I have my focus on the Chicago marathon and Copenhagen will be a good testing ground to see where I am in my preparations. But it is important to know that winning will be critical and I have what it takes to claim the title," Kitwara said on Wednesday in Nairobi.

It will be the first time this year the two athletes will be meeting. It will also be Karoki's first race since finishing seventh in 10,000m at the Rio Olympic Games.

Karoki, who is the World Half Marathon and World Cross Country silver medallist, leads this year's strong field in pursuit of the world record of 58:23 minutes set by the Eritrean Zersenay Tadese in Lisbon on March 21, 2010.

World Half Marathon Championships held in Copenhagen in 2014 and the 2015 Copenhagen Half Marathon in 2015 were won in record times.

Kenya's Geoffrey Kamworor won the 2014 World Half Marathon in a championship record time of 59:08 before Karoki, 26, swept to victory in Copenhagen last year in a personal best of 59.14, only 51 seconds short of the world record.

In March, Karoki won silver at the World Half Marathon in Cardiff after losing the battle to Kamworor who defended his title.

"I have put behind the Olympics woes having fully recovered from a hamstring injury that impeded a good performance in Rio," said Karoki, who is based in Japan.

Other Kenyans tipped to challenge Karoki for the title are Stephen Kosgei (58.54), James Wangari (59.12), Leonard Komon (59.14), Sammy Kitwara (59.47) and Matthew Kisorio (59.52).

Kenyan-born Abraham Cheroben of Bahrain and Ethiopians Yigrem Demelash, Mosinet Geremew and Berhanu Legesse will be eying to halt the Kenyan dominance in the race.

Demelash, who finished fourth in the Olympic 10,000m in Rio, tried the half marathon out for the first time in Milan and finished second by five seconds behind Wangari in 59.49 minutes.

Kenya's Gladys Chesir, who finished sixth at the 2016 World Half Marathon, leads the women's elite field with a personal best of 66.57.

Kenya's Purity Rionoripo won last year's race in 1:08:29 beating Ethiopian Sutume Asefa (1:08:47) and fellow Kenyan Lucy Kabuu (1:08:51).