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Kilel, Kwambai looking to end Ethiopian reign at Daegu Marathon

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Caroline Kilel on her way to winning the Ljubljana Marathon (Bob Ramsak) © Copyrigh

Caroline Kilel on her way to winning the Ljubljana Marathon (Bob Ramsak) © Copyrigh

DAEGU, April 2 – Following Ethiopian doubles at the past two editions of the Daegu International Marathon, there’s a fair chance that Kenyan athletes will come out on top at the IAAF Silver Label Road Race on Sunday.

Now in its 10th year, two quality fields have been assembled for the race which is held on a course similar to the one used for the marathon at the IAAF World Championships Daegu 2011.

Former Kenyan record-holder James Kwambai has never raced in Daegu before, but he enjoys competing in Korea and has won the Seoul Marathon on three occasions. Although his best of 2:04:27 was set seven years ago in Rotterdam, he is still competitive. His most recent marathon was in Seoul last year where he finished fourth in 2:09:22, just missing a podium place by less than a second.

Compatriot Elias Kemboi is the second-fastest man in the field. His PB of 2:07:04 dates back to 2010, but he was triumphant in Istanbul last November in 2:11:17. He also has experience of competing in Daegu, having finished sixth at the 2011 edition of this race, and is tied 1-1 with Kwambai in their career head-to-head record.

Like Kwambai, Stephen Kibet’s marathon PB of 2:08:05 was set in Rotterdam. The 29-year-old, who finished fifth at the 2012 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, will be contesting his first marathon in Asia.

Other Kenyans in the field include Hillary Kiprono, who has a half-marathon best of 1:01:15, and John Langat, who will be making his marathon debut.

But there’s a good chance that the title could stay in Ethiopian hands. Berhanu Gedefa won last year’s Houston Marathon in a PB of 2:08:03 and was third at this year’s race, less than a minute behind the winner.

Fellow Ethiopian Million Feyisa could be an underdog. In his one marathon to date, he clocked a respectable 2:12:14 to finish fourth in Enschede last year.

There are strong contenders outside of Kenya and Ethiopia, too. Tanzania’s Saidi Makula similarly has just one marathon to his name, a fourth-place finish in 2:13:19 in Casablanca last year, and will want to improve on that.

Morocco’s Abdellah Tagharrafet contested three marathons last year, all of which were in Asia, and made it on to the podium each time.

Lesotho’s Tsepo Mathibelle may not be the fastest in the field, but it is surely just a matter of time before he gets it right and nails a fast time. Having finished dead last in the marathon at the 2012 Olympics, he looked to be on course for a major breakthrough at last year’s World Championships when he had a 10-second lead at the 35km point in the marathon. He faded from that point onwards, but held on for a respectable 17th-place finish.

The men’s course record of 2:06:51, set by Yemane Tsegay in 2014, looks relatively safe, given that just one man in the field has ever gone faster than that. Nevertheless, the race looks set to be highly competitive.

Kilel the class of the women’s field

While the men’s field appears to be relatively evenly matched on current form, one name stands head and shoulders above the rest in the women’s race.

Caroline Kilel won the Boston Marathon in 2011 and has twice won in Frankfurt and Taipei. With 20 marathons under her belt and a PB of 2:22:34 set less than three years ago, the 35-year-old Kenyan is the overwhelming favourite to take the women’s title in Daegu.

This will be her first race of the year, but she was victorious at the Danzhou Marathon last December in what was her most recent race. Earlier in 2015, the Commonwealth silver medallist finished sixth in a highly competitive race at the Boston Marathon.

The women’s course record in Daegu was set by Margaret Agai in 2013 with 2:23:28. It’s a time that Kilel has bettered on three occasions, but that kind of performance may not be required to win on Sunday.

Ethiopia’s Sechale Dalasa is yet to improve on the 2:26:27 she set on her marathon debut in Shanghai in 2012, but she came relatively close to it in January this year when finishing third at the Houston Marathon in 2:28:43. On Sunday she will be looking to achieve the first marathon victory of her career.

Compatriot Workitu Ayanu, three times a team medallist as a junior at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, similarly set her lifetime best on her marathon debut in 2010. She finished just 21 seconds shy of her PB when placing fourth at last year’s Amsterdam Marathon in 2:29:46.

South American record-holder Ines Melchor leads a strong Peruvian contingent. The Olympian has a best of 2:26:48 and won last year’s Santiago de Chile Marathon.

Team-mate Judith Toribio is the most experienced of the field when it comes to the Daegu course. She has competed in the Korean city on four previous occasions and set her PB of 2:29:51 when finishing third at the 2014 edition of the race.

Lithuanian record-holder Zivile Balciunaite is the second-fastest woman in the field based on lifetime bests, but her PB of 2:15:15 was set back in 2005. Since then, she has only once run faster than 2:30.

Japan’s Tomomi Higuchi, who has twice finished fourth in Daegu, and South Africa’s Mapaseka Makhanya are among the other podium contenders.

Elite fields

Men

James Kwambai (KEN) 2:04:27

Elias Kemboi (KEN) 2:07:04

Berhanu Gedefa (ETH) 2:08:03

Stephen Kibet (KEN) 2:08:05

Abdellah Tagharrafet (MAR) 2:10:01

Million Feyisa (ETH) 2:12:14

Saidi Makula (TAN) 2:13:19

Jhon Lennon Casallo (PER) 2:16:10

Tsepo Mathibelle (LES) 2:16:21

Abel Villanueva Taipe (PER) 2:17:03

Hillary Kiprono (KEN) 2:18:26

John Langat (KEN) debut

Jean-Pierre Castro (PER) debut

Eduardo Villanueva Taipe (PER) debut

Women

Caroline Kilel (KEN) 2:22:34

Zivile Balciunaite (LTU) 2:25:15

Sechale Dalasa (ETH) 2:26:27

Ines Melchor (PER) 2:26:48

Workitu Ayanu (ETH) 2:29:25

Judith Toribio (PER) 2:29:51

Mapaseka Makhanya (RSA) 2:31:02

Tomomi Higuchi (JPN) 2:33:48

Shewarge Alene (ETH) 2:34:32

Clara Canchanya (PER) 2:35:41

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