(adds details of Getu Feleke competing)
Henry Sugut will return to the Vienna City Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, and the Kenyan hopes to achieve an unprecedented fourth victory in the Austrian capital on 13 April, organisers announced on Tuesday (25).
“Vienna is my city. I always do well here," said Sugut, who won in Vienna in 2010, 2012 and 2013. "Whenever I come to Vienna my self confidence is high."
Indeed, there is no other place where he has been as successful as in Vienna. Three of his four fastest marathons have been run here. His 2:06:58 winning time from 2012 still stands as his personal best and as the course record.
However, Sugut will not face an easy task trying to retain his title.
After the initial announcement that Sugut was going to defend his title, the race organisers later confirmed that Getu Feleke had been added to the start list.
With a personal best of 2:04:50, the 27 year-old is the fastest runner ever entered for the race.
Feleke has a special connection to the Vienna City Marathon. It was here where he competed in his first race outside Ethiopia.
In 2009, the organisers staged a unique 'debutants only' marathon and Feleke was among the athletes invited. He finished seventh on that occasion with a time of 2:11:47.
“I have very good memories of the Vienna City Marathon. The city and the atmosphere were both impressive. I will never forget my first race outside Ethiopia,” said Feleke.
After his debut marathon in Vienna, Feleke developed further, and quickly. In the same year, he improved to 2:09:32 in Amsterdam. In 2010 he clocked a fine half marathon time of 59:56 and then returned to Amsterdam, winning that race with a course record of 2:05:44.
This remains his only international marathon victory so far, however, he managed to improve significantly again in April 2012, when he ran his personal best of 2:04:50 when finishing second in Rotterdam. A year ago, he added another second place finish in Rotterdam. In warm weather, Feleke clocked 2:06:45.
Sugut and Feleke face five other challengers with personal bests faster than 2:08.
Among those men is fellow Kenyan John Kiprotich, who won the 2011 edition when Sugut was absent. The Kenyan clocked 2:08:28 that year and then improved to 2:07:08 in Amsterdam later that year.
Neither Sugut nor Kiprotich are the fastest on the start list. Philip Kimutai, also from Kenya, ran 2:06:07 at the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon and then clocked two more sub-2:07 times in the following two years, 2:06:51 in Seoul 2012 and 2:06:57 in Paris 2013.
Kimutai recently showed fine form when he achieved a personal best in the half marathon with 1:00:57 in the 2014 Rome-Ostia race earlier this month.
Three more Kenyans will travel to Vienna having run under 2:08 in recent years. Alfred Kering was second in Paris in 2010 with 2:07:11, Moses Kigen took 12th place in the high-class 2012 Dubai Marathon in 2:07:45, while Duncan Koech was third in Cologne two years ago in 2:07:53.
Ryo Yamamoto will achieve something unique by just appearing on the start line. Never before has a Japanese male elite runner competed in this event. The 29-year-old ran his personal best of 2:08:44 two years ago at Lake Biwa.
One man who could also spring a surprise is Wilfred Kirwa Kigen. The Kenyan is the second-fastest man ever over 25km after clocking 1:11:29 in the famous Berlin 25km race in 2012.
Last September, Kigen made his marathon debut in Berlin and initially followed the world record. He was among the leaders until about 30 kilometres but then faltered and dropped out. With a less radical approach in Vienna, Kigen could be much more successful.
Taking into account the other races that are also staged parallel to the marathon, the Vienna City Marathon organisers have registered more than 41,000 entries for the 31st edition of the race.
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF