NAIROBI, December 31 – Kenyan veteran Mariko Kiplagat Kipchumba will be aiming to reclaim the Xiamen International Marathon title in the men’s race, when the first IAAF Gold Label Road Race of 2016 will be held on Saturday.
The 41-year-old, who won the race two years ago in 2:08:03, is boosted by his vast experience of running in China, but he will face stiff competition from fellow countrymen, 2011 world silver medallist Vincent Kipruto and John Kemboi.
Ethiopians led by Meseret Legese dominate the women’s entry list that has Kenyan Mirriam Wangari who is familiar with the course.
In spite of his personal best of 2:06:05, set when winning in Reims in 2012, Kipchumba has not run faster than 2:07 since 2013, so it would be unrealistic to expect him to break the course record of 2:06:19 set by Kenya’s 2015 winner Moses Mosop, who will not defend his title.
Although he failed to defend his title in 2015, Kipchumba clocked a season’s best of 2:11:00 to win the Beijing Marathon in September before going on to finish eighth in 2:19:03 at Shanghai Marathon in November.
With a PB of 2:05:13 from the 2010 Rotterdam Marathon, Kipruto is the fastest man on the entry list but like Kipchumba, his last sub-2:07 clocking came two years ago. In his only other marathon this year, he ran 2:13:56 to finish 14th in Paris.
Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata will be one to watch on Saturday. On his debut at the distance, the unheralded 19-year-old clocked a PB of 2:08:50 to finish third at this year’s Shanghai Marathon. This weekend’s race will be just his second marathon to date.
Cheruiyot is another sub-2:09 runner on the entry list. He has a PB of 2:08:56 set in Frankfurt last year.
The men’s field also includes Ethiopian duo Abdela Godana (2:11:37) and Alemu Gemechu (2:14:01) as well as Morocco’s 36-year-old Hicham Bellani, the 2004 Olympic 5000m finalist who is making his marathon debut.
In the women’s race, two-time winner and world champion Mare Dibaba will not compete in Xiamen this year and her course record of 2:19:52 looks safe as no runner in the field has a PB faster than 2:24.
In Dibaba’s absence, fellow Ethiopian Meseret hopes that this will finally be her year after the 28-year-old finished second to Dibaba in Xiamen in 2014 and 2015, clocking 2:26:36 and 2:27:38 respectively.
Her PB of 2:26:15, also set in China, was from the 2013 Hengshui Marathon, but she came close to that in 2015 when finishing seventh in Paris in 2:27:28.
Turkish record-holder Sultan Haydar is the fastest woman in the field. She set her PB of 2:24:44 in Dubai in January and finished 43rd at the World Championships in Beijing in 2:47:11.
The last time she ran in China was at the Shanghai Marathon in November when she clocked 2:40:59 to finish fifth.
Ethiopia’s Meskerem Assefa also improved her PB in 2015. The former middle-distance specialist, who competed in the 1500m at the 2011 IAAF World Championships and 2012 Olympics, came home sixth in 2:25:11 in Chicago to shave six seconds off her previous PB.
Her compatriot Marta Lema is also a sub-2:26 runner. The 25-year-old finished second at the 2015 Hengshui Marathon in 2:25:59.
Wangari is familiar with the course in Xiamen. The 36-year-old made her debut over the marathon distance at the 2012 Xiamen Marathon, finishing second in 2:31:30. In 2015 she finished third with a PB of 2:27:53.
The field also includes Fantu Eticha of Ethiopia (2:26:14), Bahrain’s Lishan Dula (2:26:56) and 34-year-old Ukrainian Olena Burkovska(2:27:07).