All eyes will be on Kenyan road runner Simon Cheprot if he is going to be successful in defending the menâ€™s title of the Okpekpe 10 kilometers International Road Race at the sixth edition which holds today, in Okpekpe near Auchi in Edo State. Since the inaugural edition of the IAAF bronze label race won by another Kenyan, Moses Masai in 2013, no athlete, male or female has been able to retain the title at the next edition. Masai ran 29 mins 39 secs to win the inaugural edition but was defeated by his compatriot, Teshome Mekonnen, at the 2014 Okpekpe race. Mekonen set the course record of 28mins 35 seconds that has endured three years. However, Cheprot has not only vowed to successfully defend his title, he is also aiming to set a new course record by running under Mekonenâ€™s 28.35.
How Cheprot hopes to achieve that remains to be seen in just a few hours from now. As at Wednesday evening, most of the elite casts of top runners in the continent had converged on Lagos en-route Okpekpe. The list include; Kenyaâ€™s Edwin Nyandusi Mokua, Wilson Kiprono Too, Emmanuel Kiprono Kipsang as well as Ethiopian trio of Dawit Fikadu Admasu, Fikadu Haftu and Leul Gebresilasie. Also in town from Tanzania is Ismail Juma. Turkey’s Kaan Kigen Ozbilen and Thierry Ndikuwenayo of Burundi are amongst the elite road runners also aiming to pick the top prize of $15,000 on offer for the winner. As at the last count, a record 15 gold level-running elite athletes had been confirmed to race in both men and women’s categories. Kenya’s Stephen Omiso Arita, Tanzania’s Ismail Juma and Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta are leading the cast of gold-level running elite athletes for the race. Arita is the 10th fastest 10 kilometres runner so far this year courtesy of the 27:59 seconds he ran to win the XV 10km Villa de Laredo 2017 in Laredo, Spain and is here in Okpekpe not only to become the fourth Kenyan to win the men’s title but also erase from history books Mekonnenâ€™s 2014 course record.
The Kenyan will however be up against such quality competitors as Tanzania’s Juma who ran 28:58 seconds to place eight at the IAAF Gold Label World’s Best 10k in San Juan, Puerto Rico last February. Turkey’s Kaan Kigen Ozbilen who holds a 27:25 seconds personal best over 10km and placed 17th in the marathon event at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil last year is also in the group of favourites for the title. Also tipped to be among the competitors for the Okpekpe title and top cash prize are Edwin Nyandusi Mokua of Kenya who holds a 27:38 seconds lifetime best in the event, compatriots Emmanuel Kiprono Kipsang who ran 27:47 seconds to place third in the 10km race in Praha last year and Wilson Kiprono Too whose personal best of 27:39 was achieved way back in 2013 as well as Ethiopia’s Fikadu Haftu who also ran a lifetime best of 27:46 seconds last year. In the women’s category, Gudeta who came third at the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships will battle compatriot, Alemtsehay Asefa for the title. Asefa ran 32:39 seconds last March at the Oujda international 10km in Morocco and looks to be the woman to beat. Raceâ€™s Director of Organisation, Zakari Amodu told THISDAY during the week that he was thrilled by the quality of the elite athletes in town for the race and predicted new course records for both the men and women’s races. â€œAlmost all the athletes we have registered for the men and the women’s race have personal best times far better than the 28 minutes and 35 seconds and 32 minutes and 41 seconds course records set in 2014 by Ethiopian duo of Teshome Mekonnen and Wude Ayalew respectively. â€œWe have an athlete who has broken 28 minutes this year which means we are likely going to see a first sub 28 minutes time for the first time at the Okpekpe race. We are also hoping to get a sub 32 minutes runner come Saturday in the women’s category,â€ said Amodu who assured stakeholders that everything was set for another successful edition of the race.
The Okpekpe International 10km Road Race is powered by Pamodzi Sports Marketing, leaders in sports marketing and hospitality business in Nigeria. It is the first and only road race in Nigeria that has been granted full membership of Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) and recognised as one of the prestigious road races in the world and the only race with an IAAF label status in West Africa.