Kenneth Mungara will be chasing a unique treble at the Gold Coast Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (2).
Should the 43-year-old Kenyan be the first across the finish line it will be his third win in a row on the Gold Coast, a feat not managed by any male in the previous 38 editions of the race.
Should he win in a time faster than 2:09:18, Mungara will also own the three fastest winning marathon times on Australian soil. He set an Australian all-comers’ record 2:08:42 in his first victory in 2015, breaking the record previously set at 2:09:18 by marathon legend Robert de Castella in the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games marathon.
Mungara backed that up last year with a second win, this time in 2:09:00 and just one second ahead of Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi.
Kawauchi, Gold Coast winner in 2013, is running the race for a sixth consecutive time, so Mungara may have to run at least that fast to beat him again.
Abebech Afework is the fastest entrant in an open women’s field where the local interest will be on whether Virginia Moloney can become the first Australian male or female to finish in the top three since 2011.
The past three editions of the men’s race have produced the six fastest performances on Australian soil, but the women will still be chasing the all-comers mark of 2:23:14 set by Japan’s Naoko Takahashi in winning the Sydney 2000 Olympic marathon. Bekele’s fastest of 2:23:33 dates back to Dubai at the start of 2015, her fastest since a 2:24:27 in Amsterdam last October.
Mungara and Kawauchi fought out the overall race last year with just one second separating the pair as they raced across the finish line. Consistency, if nothing else, suggests they will be prominent again on Sunday.
Recent form is good form when it comes to the marathon which suggests that another Kenyan, Jonah Chesum, may be the biggest threat. Chesum is the next fastest man in the race with his personal best of 2:08:57 coming in winning the Barcelona marathon in March.
Tewelde Estifanos of Eritrea finished fourth in 2:09:33 two years ago behind Mungara’s all-comers record and two other Kenyans, Silah Limo (2:08:54) and Evans Ruto (2:08:55). He has not been in such form since, finishing 60th in the Rio Olympic race and failing to finish in Bepput earlier in the year.
Abraraw Misganaw and Douglas Chebii round out the sub-2:10 runners in the field with Chiharu Takada of Japan just outside that mark with 2:10:03 at Fukuoka three years ago. But the race looks likely to be fought out between those with faster current form.
Afework may need to produce something close to her best to win the women’s race. Two rivals – another Ethiopian in Letebrhan Gebreslasea and Kenya’s Mercy Kibarus – bring impressive recent credentials to the race.
Gebreslasea won the Yellow River marathon in Dongying, China, at the start of May in a personal best 2:25:01. Kibarus, fifth in the world half-marathon championships three years ago, was third in Seoul’s Dong-A marathon in 2:26:52.
Others have solid claims. Leah Kiprono of Kenya finished third on the Gold Coast last year, the same year she ran a personal best 2:27:40. Risa Takenaka of Japan won this race two years ago and carries good recent form in this time with a 2:28:44 in Osaka earlier in the year. New Zealander Mary Davies and Meseret Tolwak of Ethiopia also boast personal bests below 2:30.
Virginia Moloney and Elizeba Cherono bring less impressive credentials than any of the above, but also a wealth of potential.
Cherono, 29, is Kenyan-born but now represents the Netherlands. A solid track runner, she has three half-marathon performances under 71 minutes and is making her debut at the full distance with an eye to the Berlin 2018 European championships and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Moloney ran 2:41 on her marathon debut in Melbourne two years ago, then ran the Tokyo marathon in an effort to boost her chances of Rio Olympic selection. Things did not work out then, but she improved to 2:34:27 in winning in Melbourne last year.
Moloney will be one of the main contenders for the Oceania championship, which is incorporated in the Gold Coast race.
The marathon is not ideally placed for world championship representatives, but four of Australia’s London 2017 marathoners will contest the associated half-marathon.
Milly Clark, Australia’s leading finisher in Rio last year, and Olympic teammate Jess Trengove will clash with American duo Sara Hall and Olympic marathoner Desiree Linden in the women’s race. Jeff Hunt and Josh Harris will contest the men’s race.
Len Johnson for the IAAF