It pays to run a marathon with ambition, and the 2013 Gold Coast Airport Marathon on Sunday (6) has set its goals high – no less than race records in the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race in both the men’s and women’s events and the fastest-ever marathon on Australian soil.
In pursuit of their goals, the race organisers have assembled high-quality fields. The best of the local marathon talent may be focusing on the IAAF World Championships marathons in Moscow next month, but no fewer than four men in the field have sub-2:10 credentials, headed by Kenya’s Jairus Ondora Chanchima with a best of 2:07:43.
On the women’s side, Japan’s 2011 World Championships fifth-place getter Yukiko Akaba boasts a personal best of 2:24:09 and heads seven other women with sub-2:30 credentials.
Clearly, some venerable records will come under threat, none more honoured than the Australian all-comers record of 2:09:18 that local hero Robert de Castella ran to win a memorable duel with Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa at the 1982 Commonwealth Games Marathon just up the road from the Gold Coast in Brisbane.
De Castella inspired many followers in Australian distance running, two of whom ran fast times to win earlier editions of the Gold Coast race. Pat Carroll ran 2:10:44 in 1988 and Brad Camp topped that with his 2:10:11 victory the following year.
Camp’s time stood as the race record until Kenya’s Nicholas Manza ran 2:10:01 to win the 2011 race.
The women’s record of 2:29:29 was set by Japan’s Eriko Asai in 1993. The quality of the women’s field suggests that record is perhaps the most vulnerable to Sunday’s assault.
The Australian women’s all-comers record – 2:23:14 that Japan’s Naoko Takahashi ran to win the Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medal – is the only mark which seems impregnable.
Although Chanchima and Ethiopia’s Girma Berhanu Gebru (2:08:11) boast faster personal bests, it is hard to go past Yuki Kawauchi as the most intriguing competitor in the men’s race.
Conventionally, running oneself into exhaustion in a 50km race three weeks before is not the ideal preparation for a marathon.
The Japanese runner, however, is anything but your conventional marathoner, so the fact he was hospitalised briefly after collapsing at the finish of the Okinoshima Ultramarathon on 16 June can perhaps be overlooked. Likewise the inconvenient facts that he will be running his sixth marathon of the year on the Gold Coast and that he has made the Japan team for the World Championships next month.
The seemingly indefatigable Kawauchi has already run personal bests of 2:08:15, when winning the Beppu-Oita marathon; and then 2:08:14, when he third in Seoul this year. He was fourth on the Gold Coast last year and Chanchima may need to fulfil his stated ambition “to win . . . and to run the fastest time ever in Australia” to beat Kawauchi.
Chanchima and Gebru challenge De Castella's mark
Chanchima ran his personal best 2:07:43 when finishing seventh in Seoul last year. Gebru, on the other hand, has made big strides this year, improving his best first to 2:09:48 in Dubai and then to 2:08:11 when winning in Rome.
Kenya’s Samson Barmao is the other sub-2:10 entrant, running his best 2:08:52 in Rome last year and finished second to Gebru in this year’s race around the Eternal City.
Other top contenders include Kenya’s Robert Mwangi, second on the Gold Coast last year, and Japan’s Taiga Ito and Kensuke Takahashi.
Akaba, the fastest woman in the field, also comes to the Gold Coast in good form.
She finished third in London earlier this year, continuing a grand record in one of the world’s best marathons. It was her third 2:24 performance in the British capital.
Of the seven other women with personal bests below 2:28.00, Ethiopia’s Asnakech Mengistu is the closest to Akaba, but her 2:25:50 came three years ago and she has not otherwise broken 2:30.
Bigger threats to Akaba seem likely to come from Ethiopia’s Yeshimebet Tadesse Bifa, who ran 2:26:18 in Seoul this year; Japan’s Eri Okubo, whose 2:26:08 came in Tokyo last year, and Ethiopia’s 2011 Gold Coast winner Goitetom Tesema.
The Gold Coast race also serves as the Oceania Championships for the distance.
The Marathon is part of a running festival which will also feature the Australian Half Marathon Championships.
The men’s field includes last year’s winner Liam Adams, who was 23rd in this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships, and Australian marathon Olympians Lee Troop and Martin Dent.
Jess Trengove, Nikki Chapple and Lauren Shelley, who will represent Australia in the women’s marathon in Moscow, will run the women’s Half Marathon.
Len Johnson for the IAAF