The 27-year-old Kenyan will be looking for a fast time on Sunday.
PHILADELPHIA — In the storied 35-year history of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon — formerly the Philadelphia Distance Run — eight men, including five Kenyans, have won the race at least twice. Stanley Biwott could join that prestigious group on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Kenyan is the defending champion and top entrant in the men’s elite field. Not only is he the favorite, but he is a threat to break the U.S. all-comers’ record of 58:46 set by countryman Matthew Kisorio on this course in 2011. Biwott ran his personal best of 58:56, the 10th fastest mark of all time, earlier this year at Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates. Last year, Biwott won Philadelphia in 1 hour, 3 seconds, the third-fastest time ever on the course, but he never was seriously challenged after taking control at mile 8, running the rest of the race like a training run and winning by 40 seconds. Biwott said if he was pressed, he might have set a PR.
Known for record-breaking fast times, the Philadelphia course increases Biwott’s chance of smashing Kisorio’s mark. Since the event first took place in 1979, the half-marathon world record has been broken in Philadelphia a total of six times — four times by men, twice by women. A total of four American records have also been set here, along with seven U.S. all-comers’ marks.
If Biwott wins again, he would join Kenyans Michael Musyoki, Joseph Kamau, Ronald Mogaka, Julius Kibet and Kisorio as a two-time champion on the men’s side. The other double winners were Rod Dixon of New Zealand, Mark Curp of the United States and Khalid Khannouchi of Morocco. Khannouchi is the only three-time winner.
Biwott is coming off an outstanding 2012 season and appears to be reaching his peak after running under 59 minutes in the UAE. A year ago, he won the Paris Half Marathon in a course record 59:44, then a month later won the Paris Marathon in a course record and personal best 2:05:11. Later in the year he won the Beach to Beacon 10K, the Falmouth Road Race and the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Half-Marathon.
His top opposition on Sunday is expected to come from teenager Ghirmay Ghebreslassie. The 17-year-old Eritrean won his debut marathon in Paderhorn, Germany, this year, clocking 60:09, a course record and winning by 49 seconds. He was seventh in the World Cross Country Championships junior’s race in March.
The other leading contenders include Kenyans Edwin Kipyego and Cybrian Kotut, 22 and 21 years old, respectively, and Abdullah Falil, 37, of Morocco. Despite his youth, Kipyego has an outstanding international resume. Of his first seven half marathons, he won five and finished second twice. This year, he ran 60:05 in winning the CPC Den Haag in the Netherlands. His previous victories include two wins each at Bristol and Reading and once at the Kenyan Discovery Half Marathon. He also won the British 10K in London in 27:49.
Kotut finished fourth at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Half Marathon last September in a PR 62:25 and was third behind Mo Farah and Gebre Gebremariam at the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon in February. He set PRs at every distance between 10K and half marathon last year. Falil, a seasoned internationalist, ran Philadelphia last year and finished sixth. He set his PR of 60:43 in Paris in 2007. Falil has represented Morocco at the 2004 and 2008 World Cross Country Championships, as well as the 2012 Olympic Games.
Among the women, Hanae Tanaka, 23, is the top entrant and will be trying to become the first Japanese runner — male or female — to win at Philadelphia. She established her PR of 69:18 at Yamaguchi, Japan, on March 17. She also ran the 10K on the track at Palo Alto this year and clocked 32:25.05.
Lyudmyla Kovalenko, 24, of Ukraine, and Yolando Caballero, 31, of Colombia, are seeded second and third, respectively. Kovalenko will be trying to duplicate the success of countrywoman Tatiana Pondnyakova, the 1995 champion and the only Philadelphia winner from Ukraine. Kovalenko was the silver medalist in the 5,000 at the 2012 European Championships and ran that distasce at the London Olympics. Her half-marathon PR is 69:43, set at New York last year.
Like Tanaka, Caballero will attempt to give Colombia its first victory at Philadelphia. She set her PR of 70:30 at New York this past March. She has run once in Philadelphia, placing seventh. Caballero won the 10K at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games and represented Colombia at the 2012 London Olympics.