Kenya’s Eliud Kiptanui and Ethiopia’s Korene Jelila will start as the marginal favourites for the men’s and women’s races at the Seoul International Marathon on Sunday (17), but the competition still remains wide open for the honours at the only IAAF Gold Label Road Race in Korea.
The race will mark its 84th year with an international elite field of 32 men and 13 women, who will be joined by more than a hundred of Korea’s top long distance runners.
It will start at the famous Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul and will cut through the heart of the Korean capital, before finishing at Jamsil Olympic Stadium in the south eastern part of the city.
Kiptanui, who can boast of a personal best of 2:05:39 from when he won the 2010 Prague Marathon and who was sixth over the distance at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, was third in Seoul last year and will lead a strong Kenyan contingent bidding to become their nation’s fifth men’s winner in the last six years of the race.
He will be joined by Franklin Chepkwony, who set a personal best of 2:06:11 when finishing second at the Marathon Eindhoven last October, and Benjamin Kiptoo, who ran his best of 2:06:31 in the 2011 Paris Marathon.
Kiptoo also has some fond memories of Korea, having won the 2010 Chuncheon International Marathon and finished third at the 2012 JoongAng Seoul Marathon.
The race also sees the return of another well-known Kenyan runner, the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon champion Duncan Kibet, who owns the fastest personal best time in this year’s field with 2:04:27.
Now 34, Kibet has struggled with injuries in recent years and has not run a Marathon since he failed to finish the 2010 London Marathon.
One Kenyan name missing will be the defending champion. The men’s course record of 2:05:37 was set in 2012 by Wilson Loyanae but he will not be able to return after being sanctioned for a doping violation last month.
Tola could be trouble
Ethiopia’s Seboka Dibaba Tola, with a best of 2:06:17 from the Dubai Marathon last year, will try to foil the Kenyans’ bid for another Seoul victory.
The 25-year-old was the pacemaker for Loyanae last year but he has since come into his own, including setting the course record of 2:08:27 to win in Dusseldorf last April.
From closer to home, Yuki Kawauchi is expected to provide the strongest challenge from Asia. The 26-year-old Japanese won the Beppu-Oita Marathon in February with the course record and personal best of 2:08:15.
He has already run four Marathons since the start of December and has a three-race winning streak coming to Seoul, having also won on home soil in Hofu and then in Egypt at the Luxor Marathon.
Affectionately called ‘The Citizen Runner’, Kawauchi rose to national fame as the fastest Japanese runner at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon, while holding down a full-time job at a local high school.
Host nation Korea hasn’t had a Seoul International Marathon champion since 2007, when Lee Bong-ju, the 1996 Olympic Games silver medallist, won in 2:08:04.
The drought may well last for another year, as Jeong Jin-hyeok, the runner-up in the 2011 race, is skipping this year’s event as he is preparing instead for the Daegu International Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on 14 April.
Kim Young-jin, with a best of 2:16:47 in the 2012 Seoul Marathon, and Kim Min, who ran 2:13:11 in Seoul two years ago, represent the best Korean hopes this time around.
Jelila aims to continue Ethiopian streak
The women’s race is missing the three podium finishers from 2012 but Ethiopia has ruled the women’s race in recent years, having produced the past four winners, and Jelila will be a contender to continue that
Jelila, who ran her personal best of 2:22:43 when winning the 2011 Toronto Marathon, comes to Seoul having won three of her five marathons since the start of 2011, including in Istanbul last November.
Her compatriot Robe Guta returns to the race and is chasing her third Seoul International Marathon title, following victories in 2009 and 2011.
Flomena Chepchirchir, with a best of 2:24:21 from the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon will hope to make a little bit of history of her own by becoming the first Kenyan woman to win the Seoul race.
Others to watch include Bahrain’s Lishan Dula Gemgchu, with a best of 2:26:56 from the 2011 Rotterdam Marathon and another Ethiopian, Yeshimebet Tadesse Bifa, who ran 2:27:45 in the 2010 Dubai Marathon.
From among local runners, Kim Sung-eun will try to improve on her fourth-place finish from 2012.
The women’s course record of 2:19:51, by China’s Zhou Chunxiu, has not been touched since 2006. In fact, Zhou remains the only woman to have run the Seoul course under 2:20.
The men’s champion will earn $80,000 if his time is better than 2:10:00, but will have to settle for $40,000 if he finishes worse than 2:10:00.
By comparison, the women’s winner will receive $80,000 if she finishes faster than 2:24:00, but $40,000 for coming in slower than 2:24:00.
For the men, breaking the world record of 2:03:38 by Patrick Makau will mean a bonus of $500,000 a big increase on 2012 when the world record bonus was $300,000. Men who run under 2:04:00 without breaking the world mark will earn $200,000.
For women, the world record bonus is $300,000 and those who finish inside 2:19:00 will get $100,000 in bonus.
Yoo Jee-Ho for the IAAF