After Riga show, action now shifts to 2024 Paris Olympic Games in earnest

Sabastian Sawe after winning men's half marathon in Riga, Latvia. [World Athletics]

Kenya team arrived from the successful Riga sojourn last night with heads held high after the historic feat in distance races at the inaugural World Athletics Road Running Championships in Riga, Latvia, on Sunday.

The team, which topped the medal standings with 12 medals -five gold, three silver and four bronze -set a perfect stage for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. It was a competition where Kenya claimed half the total medals on offer in the Latvian capital.

The Riga showpiece was simply a celebration of distance running that World Athletics turned it into an annual event beginning with the 2025 championships in Copenhagen and USA, which will host for the first time in 2026 in San Diego.

The contest is simply an expansion of the World Half Marathon Championships, which started in 1992 (but was run as a 20km in 2006). With the addition of the mile and 5km distances for the first time in 2023, it's now known as the World Athletics Road Running Championships.

Kenyan team exhibited supremacy in half marathon races and women's 5km contests.

It was just the second time in 25 editions that a nation swept the men's world half marathon podium, the last one being in 1997, when Kenya's Moses Tanui, Paul Yego and Charles Tangus went 1-2-3.

It meant Kenya claimed the team title for the 17th time, with a cumulative time for their top three of 2:57:43, well clear of Ethiopia (2:59:54). South Africa, led by Thabang Mosiako in sixth, took bronze in 3:01:17.

Peris Jepchirchir, the Olympic marathon champion, proved to the global stage what Kenya is made of when it comes to road running. She led a podium in the half marathon race.

But that was no surprise as Jepchirchir, who honed her athletics while a pupil at Sambut Primary School in Uasin Gishu County, had already won two editions of the World Half Marathon Championships -2016 in Cardiff and 2020 in Gdynia, Poland.

Like she did three weeks ago at the Great North Run in England, Jepchirchir summoned little energy in the homestretch to strike her third title.

With the victory, she became the fourth athlete to win World Half Marathon crowns three times after Kenyan-born Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat, Tegla Loroupe and Britain's Paula Radcliffe.

Since 2020, Jepchirchir has won four of the biggest marathons on the planet - 2020 Valencia, 2021 Olympics, 2021 New York, and 2022 Boston.

Jepchirchir, the only sibling in a family of 24 to take up athletes, is the only Olympic champion to win the New York City Marathon -the American 42km race has over the years shown no respect for Olympic champions.

She has also won two World Half titles (the first in a women's-only world record of 65:16) as well as the 2023 Great North Run. In all, she has won 10 of her last 13 road races dating back to October 2019.

Sebastian Sawe, the men's half marathon winner, went to the start line with a 59.02 best mark set in Seville, Spain before posting 59.00 in the Berlin Half Marathon last April.

Sawe, who trains alongside 2022 London Marathon winner Amos Kipruto in Kapsabet, has won five of his six career half marathons.

Beatrice Chebet, the world 5000m bronze medallist, led 2017 world cross country bronze medalist Lilian Kasait Rengerul into 1-2 sweep in women's 5km contest.

Faith Kipyegon suffered her first defeat this season as settled for bronze in the mile showdown.

Kipyegon's 2023 season has been one of the most dominant in the history of the sport and she entered the race as an overwhelming favourite to win and set the world record.

Just two weeks ago in Eugene, Kipyegon ran 3:50.72 to win the Diamond League 1500 final by more than three seconds.

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