It’s hard enough to pick the winner of a Marathon after the field has run 30 kilometres, even harder before the race has even started.
For the third time in four years, the World championships/Olympic Marathons are being held in a city likely to offer (and, it’s an offer you can’t refuse) sweltering conditions.
Osaka in 2007 was a hot-box, Daegu in August has the likelihood of similar conditions. Runners dodged the bullet in Beijing and Berlin, where it was merely summer-time, without the swelter.
Still, as the late Sammy Wanjiru showed in the men’s Olympic Marathon, it is possible to run hard, fast and brave in warm and sunny conditions.
The course is multi-lap – 2x15km, 1x12.195km, the loop starting and finishing in the downtown Gukchae-bosang Memorial Park, and basically flat. Rise and fall over the entire loop is approximately 20 metres.
China’s Xue Bai won in Berlin two years ago, with Yoshimo Ozaki of Japan and Aselefech Mergia following close behind to take the minor medals. China also took the associated World Cup (decided on aggregate time of best three finishers) from Japan, Russia, Ethiopia and the USA.
Xue Bai will not defend, but led by Asian Games champion and silver medallist, Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin, China will field a formidable team.
Ozaki leads the Japanese team again, having won the Yokohama marathon in a personal best 2:23:56. The Japanese selection was disrupted by the earthquake and tsunami which struck early in March, but the tradition of strong Japanese teams continues with Yukiko Akaba (sixth London, 2:24:09), Remi Nakazato (second Yokohama, 2:24:29), Azusa Nojiri (12th London, 2:25:29) and Mai Ito (second Osaka, behind Akaba, 2:26:55).
Ethiopia and Kenya will also field strong teams. Ethiopia will be led by Mergia, who won in Dubai in January in 2:22:45. Teammates Bezunesh Bekele (2:23:42) and Atsede Baysa (2:23:50) were fourth and fifth in London, and Aberu Kebede was ninth. Dire Tune, second in Frankfurt last year in 2:23:44, completes the quintet.
Kenya will be led by London marathon third placegetter Edna Kiplagat, whose 2:20:46 makes her the fastest entrant in the field. Priscah Jeptoo won the Paris Marathon in 2:22:55 and Sharon Cherop the 2010 Toronto Marathon in 2:22:43. Commonwealth Games champion Irene Jerotich Kosgei and Caroline Rotich round out the team.
The fastest two of 2011 – Mary Keitany (KEN) and Liliya Shobukhova (RUS), are not entered. Seven of the fastest 11 are – Kiplagat, Mergia, Jeptoo, Sweden’s Isabella Andersson, Bekele, Baysa and Ozaki. The race will lack for little at the top.
In Osaka four years ago, Catherine Ndereba won her second world title from Zhou and Reiko Tosa of Japan. The race was run in trying conditions, but it still went to the best runner.
On what is likely to be another tough day, can her compatriot Edna Kiplagat repeat the trick?
Len Johnson for the IAAF