CARDIFF (25-Mar) -- In order to win his first IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships title tomorrow, Mo Farah will not only have to overcome a stiff challenge from a stacked Kenyan team led by defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor, but also a blast of wet and windy Welsh weather. The 33 year-old Farah, who has won five world titles on the track, will be making his first appearance at a world half-marathon championships, and is the primary focus of attention here as Britain's only medal contender. He's the "poster boy" of these championships, as one British broadcaster put it.
"I'm really excited to be here to compete tomorrow," Farah told a crowded press conference on Good Friday. "As part of my journey to Rio... I wanted to be here and I love the support of the home crowd. It makes a massive difference." He continued: "I always want to race at home."
In four out of the last five years, Farah has opened his outdoor season with a half-marathon, winning in New York City, New Orleans and Lisbon. Farah's coach, Alberto Salazar, has successfully used these half-marathons to transition Farah from the indoor to outdoor track seasons. Farah wanted to stick with that approach as he prepares to defend his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the Rio Olympics in August.
While victory at a world championships is always difficult, Farah will truly be put to the test tomorrow. The Kenyan federation has sent a particularly strong squad, led by Kamworor the 2015 world cross country champion who also won the world half-marathon title two years ago in Copenhagen. Remarkably, Kenya's slowest man, Edwin Kipyego, has a personal best of 59:30, while Kamworor boasts a career best mark of 58:54, the fastest on the team. The Kenyans will be able to work together and dictate the pace, while Farah will be on his own.
Nonetheless, Farah doesn't seem fazed, and clearly relished the challenge.
"It's going to be quite a tough race, because you know Geoffrey's a great athlete, " Farah said, glancing at Kamworor with whom he shared the dais. "It's not going to be easy tomorrow, but hopefully I can go out there and have the crowd behind me. It's going to make a big difference. It's going to be very exciting for our sport."
Kamworor, who finished a close second to Farah at the IAAF World Championships 10,000m in Beijing last summer, smiled slyly as Farah spoke. He was respectful of his opponent, but not deferential.
"I'm very delighted to get a chance to compete," said Kamworor, who is coached by Olympic silver medalist Patrick Sang. He continued: "I think it will be an exciting race. Trying to defend the title is very important."
Kamworor's most powerful teammate is Bedan Karoki, who runs for the DeNA corporate team in Japan. Karoki, 25, has a 59:14 personal best to his credit, but is particularly fearsome in championship-style races. He was the silver medalist behind Kamworor at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships last year, fourth at last summer's world championships 10,000m, and fifth at the London Olympic 10,000m in 2012. In four career half-marathons, he's broken one hour three times and is undefeated at the distance.
Adding an additional element of excitement will be the weather. While today is sunny with a pleasant breeze, forecasters are calling for sometimes heavy rain and "gale force" winds for tomorrow's race, according to the BBC. Winds could gust to 50 MPH (80 KPH), the BBC reported. That will not only present a challenge for the elite athletes competing for the medals, but also the approximately 16,000 runners who have entered the accompanying citizens' race.
"There is some lively weather," admitted Matt Newman the CEO of Run 4 Wales, the local organizing committee. "It's the one thing we can't control."
The IAAF World Half-Marathon (or road running) Championships have been held in Britain three times: South Shields in 1992 (as part of the Great North Run); Bristol in 2001; and most recently in Birmingham in 2009. Only one British man, Carl Thackery who collected the bronze in 1993, has won a medal at these championships. On the women's side, Paula Radcliffe was victorious three times (2000, 2001 and 2003), and Liz McColgan won in 1992.
For Farah, who has won five of the seven half-marathons he has started during his career, winning here tomorrow is clearly important. But, he also has his eyes on Rio and sees tomorrow's race as a logical stepping stone to the Olympics.
"It's really important," Farah said. "As an athlete you always set yourself goals and targets. And for me, as part of my journey to Rio, it's important tomorrow to come away with a good result." He continued: "This is a great opportunity to do it, and (get) another world title if I come away with the win."
PHOTO: Double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah speaking to the media in advance of the 2016 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)