By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
PRAGUE (06-May) -- Felix Kandie has a history in this city, and expects to continue his legacy on the cobblestones of Prague this Sunday as he defends his title at the Volkswagen Prague Marathon. The 29-year-old Kenyan knows that a fast showing here could set the stage for a bright future, and seeks to seize his opportunity to launch into the upper echelon of elite marathoners. Mentioning the likes of established stars Wilson Kipsang and Eliud Kipchoge, Kandie wants nothing more than to be mentioned among the best of the best.
PHOTO: Felix Kandie in advance of the 2016 Volkswagen Prague Marathon (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)
"Based on past performances, with hard work a time of 2:05 is possible [in Prague]. I will try and see what I can get for a time," Kandie told members of the media on Thursday, speaking to a packed room. He did not shy away from talking of Eliud Kiptanui's 2:05:39 course record, set in 2010.
Over the past two years, Kandie has raced in the Czech Republic at least four times, scoring an 18-second victory here in 2015 (timing 2:08:32). In three half-marathons on Czech soil, Kandie has broken 61 minutes twice, including a lifetime best of 60:04 just last month en route to finishing sixth at the Sportisimo Prague Half-Marathon. Kandie credits his consistency here to RunCzech president Carlo Capalbo and his team of race organizers, as well as the supportive crowds and the warm feeling that permeate throughout the capital city.
"I like the organization, they are very good and they invite me to this race again," Kandie told Race Results Weekly. "The city is beautiful, the people here are very friendly and caring, so I am thankful to God that I am here again. They help me run fast because when they invite very strong fields and pacemakers, and there's an organization and supporters like here on the course, we are able to run a good time."
Though it is a very, very, very long shot that Kandie would be selected for the Kenyan Olympic team, he is not counting out the chance. He has shown steady improvement over the years, going from a personal best of 2:16:12 in 2012 to 2:07:07 entering Sunday's race. While he doesn't yet possess the lifetime bests to match training partner Kipsang (2:03:23) or that of Virgin Money London Marathon winner Kipchoge (2:03:05), Kandie knows that a dominant run here could potentially set the stage for a future opportunity at a global championships.
Training with Kipsang in Iten, Kandie has gained the same confidence and poise that his more experienced elder-statesman possesses. Yet like Kipsang, he isn't afraid to speak of lofty goals and expectations. For some, mentioning a 2:05 expectation on the twisting Prague course would be preposterous. Kandie, however, is at ease tossing out the benchmark.
"This is the last chance that we have to make the [Olympic] team. It is really, really hard but I will try my best. I have given everything I have in preparation, and it has been very good," said Kandie. "I prepared hard last year and I won last year. I came back for the half-marathon, and I am ready again this year now.
He continued: "I am experienced because I ran here last year, half-marathon and the full, and this year I've already come for the half, and that is very good. I am seeing that I am experienced here. I think it is good. I am familiar with every corner and the route, so I am hoping on Sunday I can utilize that.
Coming off an April that saw Kenyans fail at the Boston Marathon yet shine a week later at the Virgin Money London Marathon (with Kipchoge defeating Stanley Biwott in a brilliant race; Biwott finishing in 2:03:51), Kandie feels like it is his duty to continue the winning Kenyan tradition here in Prague. Kenyan men have won 15 titles in the 21 years since the race was founded.
Even more impressive are the names that have triumphed here: two-time TCS New York City Marathon victor John Kagwe, Boston and Berlin Marathon champion Elijah Lagat, and 2:05:21-ace Eliud Kiptanui, among many others. For the women, Boston Marathon victors Caroline Rotich and Salina Kosgei, as well as 2011 New York City champion Firehiwot Dado once shined here. One could say that the Volkswagen Prague Marathon has been a launching point for stars of the sport.
"My time five years ago was two hours, 16 minutes, and this year I hope to be able to get my time to 2:05 or 2:06," he said. "It gives me confidence, because when athletes like Wilson [Kipsang] runs well, I know that I can run well like him because we run together and stay together."
Kandie has done most of his training in Iten, though completed speedwork and fast tempos in Eldoret leading up to this race. That, he believes, is a winning combination.
"I did watch [London]," Kandie said, nodding while recalling the sensational race. "The performance in London was very impressive. First because Eliud ran very good and fast. In that marathon they achieved their goals, and so I'm thinking that it has motivated me a lot because I have put in the training so I can someday run like him. I hope to improve again and one day soon run like Eliud Kipchoge."
After hearing of Kandie's praise, Kipchoge quickly tweeted his support and well wishes for the defending champion. Responding to an RRW tweet, Kipchoge let it be known that he is rooting for his fellow countryman this weekend.
"@ChrisLotsbom that's good motivation,i wish him all the best in prague marathon,go go go Felix kandie." Tweeted Kipchoge.