NAIROBI, October 26- Kenyans Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany will return to New York on Sunday to defend their marathon titles, hoping victory will help secure them places in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Former Olympic bronze medallist Kipsang, 33, will be competing in his first marathon since he was forced to retire with exhaustion in the world athletics championships in Beijing.
“My training has been going on very well, and I hope to run a good race in New York,” Kipsang told AFP before his departure for the US.
“I hope the weather will be more favourable than in Beijing, where the conditions were too hot and humid for my liking. I like running in New York City…I think the roads suit me very well.”
Former world record holder Kipsang is a favourite to win the men’s race.
But Keitany faces the biggest challenge to retain her crown against a strong field that includes the London marathon reigning champion, Tigist Tufa, who beat her into second place in the British capital last April.
However, 33-year-old Keitany arrives in New York fresh from her successful defence of the women’s Great North Run in the English city of Newcastle, where she clocked a time of one hour, seven minutes and 32 seconds in September.
“I know the race in New York will be very competitive but I will go there to do my best to retain my title,” said Keitany.
“I hope I will not make the same mistake — to break away early, which I tried in 2011 and paid the price at the end. The solution is to stick with the leading pack to the end.”
Others who will be expected to challenge her for the title are fellow Kenyans Helah Kiprop, a silver medal winner in Beijing, the reigning Boston champion Caroline Rotich and former World and Olympic silver medallist Sally Kipyego.
The 29-year-old Kipyego, who has been training in Kenya for the event since June, expects a tough start to her marathon career.
“I am very excited and thrilled — it is a great opportunity to have a test and see how the experience turns out,” she told AFP before travelling to New York at the weekend.
“It’s rather scary for me to be going into an unknown territory, but I am lucky to have twice been able to ride in the lead car during the New York marathon, and being in a close quarters to watch Mary Keitany in competition.
“I have also had a great opportunity to race the New York half marathon in 2014, so the course will not be all that strange for me,” Kipyego added.
“I hope those experiences will favour my entry into big time marathon on Sunday.”
For the debutant Kipyego, a top-five finish would almost make her a contender for a place in the women’s marathon team for the Rio Olympics.
“The objective is to run a good race, with the main target being the Olympics in Rio next year,” added Kipyego, who regularly trains and lives in Eugene in the US state of Oregon.
Kenya is expected to hold its Rio Olympic trials in Nairobi in February, where the top three men and women will be selected for the team.