Ethiopia’s Yasin Haji is seeking to make history as the first man to successfully defend the Okpekpe international 10km Road Race title. The 27-year-old has arrived in Lagos for Saturday’s race in Okekpe, Edo State.
Haji became the third, bonafide Ethiopian man to win the Okpekpe race title when he ran 29:05, the third fastest winning time in race history, to win the title in 2022.
Teshome Mekonen, who ran 28.35 in 2014 to set the race record, was the first Ethiopian to win the men’s race, while Leule Gebrselassie (29:28) became the second to win three years later. Haji, who raced to a 27:00 lifetime best in the event last year in Lille, has returned to form at the right time.
The Ethiopian clocked 27:20 at the end of last month at the adizero Road to Records, Adi-Dassler-Straße 1 in Herzogenaurach, Germany to send a message to his countryman, Mekonen that he is returning to Okpekpe to break the course record and make history.
The stage will not be for Haji alone, as a certain Kenyan, Daniel Simiu Ebenyo, will not only be seeking to return Kenya to the podium as Okpekpe race champion, but also challenge Mekonen’s 28.35 course record.
Ebenyo is one of just 14 athletes in the event’s all-time list to have broken 27 minutes when he ran 26:58 in Valencia, Spain in January 2022, and like Haji, the 27-year-old has also returned to form just in time for the Okpekpe race.
He ran 59:52 to win the Istanbul Half Marathon in Istanbul, Turkey at the end of last month and will be looking to become the fifth Kenyan winner of the Okpekpe 10km title.
In the women’s race, a new course record also looks to be in the offing following the quality of the elite cast for the event. Kenya’s Edith Jepchumba will lead the cast of athletes aiming to rewrite the 32:41 course record set by Ethiopia’s Wude Ayalew in 2014.
The Kenyan ran a 30:53 lifetime best over the distance last February, nearly two minutes inside the course record and she is the fastest athlete among the elite cast confirmed for the race.
Ethiopia’s Bertukan Welde has also ran inside Ayalew’s course record when she clocked 32:00 to come in behind Jepchumba in Castellon, Spain last February.
Abigail Jelimo will be seeking to get the gold this time after running 33.53 to place third at the eighth edition of the Okpekpe race last year.
Meanwhile, former Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police and now Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Solomon Arase, yesterday, commended owner of the Okpekpe 10km race, Mike Itemuagbor, for sustaining the world-class road running event in Nigeria.
He said: “Kudos to Mike (Itemuagbor), the great sports lover and administrator for putting the rural Okpekpe community on the map of the world. Okpekpe race has come to stay because of our brother, who has been able to sustain it over the years.”
The ninth Okpekpe International 10km Road Race will hold on Saturday in Okpekpe, Etsako East Council of Edo State. Edo State government, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Dan Oil, Petralon Energy Limited and Development Bank, back the race.
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