Individual medals for European athletes in the men’s race at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships have been a rare commodity since the event was first staged in 1992.
Mo Farah’s bronze medal at the last edition of the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff was the first medal won by a European athlete this century but Switzerland’s Julien Wanders arrives in Valencia with ambitions of challenging the East Africans on Saturday who have won the last 17 editions since 1997.
“I’m not looking for a time, just a good position,” Wanders told SPIKES magazine in a recent interview. “I will tell myself to go for the win and see what I can do. I’ll try to keep up with the top guys and if I can get a medal, it’s good, but if I can get top 10 it’s good, too.”
Wanders’ medal aspirations aren’t misplaced either. He finished second in the Barcelona Half Marathon last month in a European U23 record and Swiss senior record of 60:09 to move to sixth on the European all-time lists.
And while reigning two-time champion Geoffrey Kamworor from Kenya is one of a handful of tite aspirants yet to contest a half marathon in 2018, Wanders has the third fastest season’s best in the field and the 21-year-old defeated the fastest entrant Jemal Yimer from Ethiopia - a 59:00 performer - over 10km at the Corrida de Houilles in December.
Ben Connor and Luke Traynor improved their lifetime bests to 61:12 and 61:57 in the Barcelona Half Marathon and the British team, who finished fourth in the team race in Cardiff two years ago, will be aiming to be the first European nation despite the absence of Farah.
Reigning SPAR European cross country champion Kaan Kigen Ozbilen from Turkey is one of 12 athletes with a lifetime under the one hour-mark. Ozbilen boasts a lifetime best of 59:58, although that mark dates back to 2011.
Another interesting entrant with an excellent cross country background is France’s Florian Carvalho. The former European U20 and U23 cross country champion, who has represented France in the 1500m at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, will be making his debut at the distance.
After a spate of notable withdrawals, Brit Charlotte Purdue is the eighth fastest entrant based on season’s bests with her 70:29 PB from the London Half Marathon earlier this month. She is part of a strong British team which also includes former SPAR European cross country champion Gemma Steel.
The Brits will be challenged for the accolade of best European nation by the hosts whose team includes national record-holder Trihas Gebre while Belarus has named a strong team headed by Olympic marathon fifth-placer Volha Mazuronak and former European indoor 3000m silver medallist Sviatlana Kudzelich.