Paris, FranceEthiopians, led by Eshetu Wendimu and Mamitu Daska, are expected to shine in the French capital on Sunday (10) for the 35th edition of the Paris Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
No less than 40,000 runners from 109 countries will start from the base of the Arc de Triomphe at 08:45 (CET), running down the Champs-Elysées towards the Place de la Concorde. Then, Rivoli Street will take them to the Place de la Bastille, ascending up to the Route Saint-Hubert at the 14th kilometer and closing the loop via Bois de Vincennes. The return leg to the west direction will be critical for determining the victory contenders, as they will enter on a long slope along the Seine River, before joining the Bois de Boulogne where they will find the last uphill stretch around the 36th kilometre. Only a few of the eighteen sub-2:10 performers lining-up will still be in position to cross the finish line of the mythical 42.195Km race which takes place as usual on Foch Avenue.
During the past decade, Ethiopia and Kenya have shared the wins, and even though 2010 winner Tadesse Tola will not defend his title, one of his teammate is the leader on the start list: 29-year-old Eshetu Wondimu (2:06:46 last year in Dubai, and 2:08:54 in January in the race), will make his first appearance in Paris for his sixth Marathon outing, and maybe his first victory over the distance.
The other Ethiopians in the race also have strong arguments for the title. The experienced Terefi Wodajo made his Marathon debut in 2002 and set his personal best two years ago with 2:07:45 in Amsterdam but hasn’t raced much since. Zembala Yegeze has the advantage of knowing the course (he was seventh in Paris last year in a 2:08:48 personal best).
Kenya will line-up a strong contingent topped by Tadesse’s runner-up in 2010, Alfred Kering, 32, who set his personal best of 2:07:11. Less experienced but more prone to improvement is Bernard Kipyego, 26. He discovered the distance last year with an eye-opening debut in Rotterdam (2:07:01), after much success in Cross Country (World bronze medal in 2007) and in the Half-Marathon (World silver medal in 2009).
However, surprise might come from newcomer Stephen Chebogut who took the Reims Marathon in October with 2:09:38 as a virtual unknown. French Abdellatif Meftah, a 1:00:46 performer at the Half-Marathon and a 10,000m specialist (28:12.83 for second place at 2010 European Cup) will make his debut over the legendary distance with the aim to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London.
The pace is set to lead the race on target for a 2:06 finish, hence very close to the 2:05:47 course record set by Kenyan Vincent Kipruto in 2009. However, the exceptionally warm weather in France this week might counteract the record plans. Organisers and managers will meet on Saturday (9) in order to set up the pace maker strategy to best utilise the latest weather forecasts.
Course record target for Daska - women's race
In the women's race, Mamitu Daska's manager has brought a special pacemaker to reach splits for a 2:22 performance, in order to improve the course record (2:22:04) set last year by Atsede Bayisa, who'll be absent this year.
Her successors might very well be Daska, who has had a very consistent Marathon career so far: a 2:26:38 debut in Berlin in 2009 finishing third, backed up with two wins in Dubai (2:24:19 last year) and in Houston this past January where she clocked 2:26:33. Another Ethiopian, Korene Yal Jelela, showed great form in January as well, winning in Mumbai with 2:26:56, and should be able to break her best of 2:24:33 set in Toronto in last October. Ashu Kasim, fourth in Paris two years ago in her debut in 2:25:18, hasn’t run faster in the five following races but could surprise again in her “lucky town”. Former track specialist Mestawat Tufa, with a 30:38.33 at 10,000m, will draw attention for her first-ever Marathon, for which she prepared in New Delhi’s Half Marathon with a fast 1:08:48.
The fastest woman of the field is Kenyan Agnes Kiprop, 30, whose last Marathon run in October in Frankfurt was her fastest ever (2:24:07). Teammate Prisca Jeptoo might not have fast time references (2:27:02) but won two of the three Marathon she entered in (Porto in 2009 and Torino in 2010) and placed second in the other (Padova in 2010).
Pierre-Jean Vazel for the IAAF