The first IAAF Gold Label Road Race of the year is the 12th Xiamen International Marathon in China and the famous race in Fuijan province with its coastal course promises to be a good one again on Thursday (2).
On the men’s side, the course record has been broken for each of the last five years and this year it could tumble again.
Once again, it is likely to be a battle between Ethiopian and Kenyan runners and the winners of the last two years are in the race. Ethiopia’s Negari Terfa clocked 2:07:32 for the win, and setting the current course record, in 2013 while Kenya’s Peter Kamais was fastest in 2012 in 2:07:37, with both times being both personal bests as well.
The 30-year-old Terfa has a good shot at becoming the first man to defend his crown in Xiamen. He had a perfect record in 2013 adding another fast win at the Rome Marathon in 2:07:56 back in March.
There are three athletes in the race with faster personal bests, but Terfa’s previous experience (he was alos eighth in 2012) will also help a lot.
His compatriot, 25-year-old Endeshaw Negesse has the fastest best of 2:04:52 from Dubai 2013, where he finished fourth, but he has little expirience of winning really big marathons. The Ethiopian did win in Florence in 2012 in 2:09:59, but this race should be considerably faster.
Kenyans Mariko Kiplagat, Nathaniel Kipkosgei and Elijah Keitany all have personal bests under 2:07 and could challenge but none are consistant high level runners.
The 38 year-old Kiplagat was seventh in Xiamen in 2013 in 2:10:28 and ran his best 2:06:05 for a win in Reims in 2012, 29 year-old Kipkosgei has only completed one single marathon during his career, 2:06:28 for second place in Eindhoven 2011 when he was supposed to be a pace maker but decided to finish the race and has dropped out of his subsequent marathons while the 30 year-old Keitany has a personal best of 2:06:41 from Amsterdam 2009 and also has a fast 2:06:53 from the same race in 2011 but has not broken 2:09 in the last two years
Kamais, now 37, won the Xiamen race in 2012, but his recent form doesn’t suggest that he will be able to regain his title in 2014. He was fifth in the 2013 race in 2:09:53 season’s best but his last performance, 2:13:51 for fifth place in Melbourne three months ago,was not promising.
There are six other men with personal betss under 2:10, completing an elite start list of impressive depth: the Moroccan pair of Abdellah Falil (best of 2:08:18) and Rachid Kisri (2:06:48), Kenya’s Julius Muriuki (2:09:08) and the Ethiopian trio of Demise Tsega (2:09:44), Aredo Tadese (2:09:13 ) and Dereje Debele (2:07:48), the latter having run his best time in 2013 when winning in Dusseldorf.
There is a possibility that the women’s course record could fall as well in the first major marathon of 2014.
Dibaba looking to shave the course record
Zhang Yingying’s time of 2:22:38 from 2008 has stood as the mark to beat for six years but Ethiopia’s 24-year-old Mare Dibaba potentially has the credentials to challenge that mark although it will be her first marathon since the London 2012 Olympics Games.
Earlier in 2012, Dibaba set her personal best 2:19:52 for third place in Dubai and is by far the fastest runner in the race.
Ethiopoian women have won for the last four years and that streak loots set to continue, even if Dibaba falters.
Her compatriot, 27 year-old Alemitu Abera comes to China off an unsuccessful 2013 season. Having won in Houston in January 2012 in a fast 2:23:14 personal best, her best marathon result in 2013 has only been a modest 2:33:46 in Boston.
Antoher Ethiopian, Emebet Etea, comes to Xiamen from a very different approach having run her best marathon in her last race.
Etea, 25, was second in Seoul in March 2013, clocking 2:25:53 personal best and lowering her previous best by almost nine minutes.
Completing the astrong Ethiopian contingent, Meseret Legesse (2:26:15) and Biruktayit Degefa (2:27:34) also have personal bests under 2:30.
Also in the race is Turkey’s Sultan Haydar who ran a 2:27:10 season’s best in Rome in March 2013 and holds the national record at 2:25:09 from 2012.
Orgainsers have made a slight adjustment to the 2014 course in order to make it faster and even more picturesque adding the famous Zhongshan Road through Xiamen's renowned historical district.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF