Istanbul has been the scene for the fastest marathons on the Turkish soil, and there are reasons to expect the current all-comers' records to fall at the Vodafone Istanbul Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (12).
The 39th edition of the race not only features a strong elite field but also offers a less undulating course following some slight adjustments after a recent re-measurement. The event keeps its “intercontinental” concept, starting on the Asian side of the city, finishing in the historical peninsula of the Sultanahmet district, where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located, and the runners must still cope with the two-kilometre uphill stretch before the finish line to grab a share from the USD 216,000 prize purse.
The men’s race record in Istanbul is 2:10:42, a time also standing as the Turkish all-comers record since it was set by Kenya’s Vincent Kiplagat in 2010. The men’s elite field this year includes 14 sub-2:10 runners. The fastest ever athlete on the start line on Sunday will be Bazu Worku of Ethiopia who has a 2:05:25 from Berlin in 2010. The 27-year old ran 2:08:48 this year in Prague where he finished second.
Kenya’s Jacob Kendagor achieved his personal best of 2:07:33 in 2017, in Seoul where he crossed the finish line sixth. His compatriot Micah Kogo, bronze medallist at 10,000m at the 2008 Olympic Games, has a career best of 2:06:56, which dates from 2013. Kogo clocked 2:10:03 in Paris this year
Kaan Kigen Özbilen carries home hopes in Istanbul. Özbilen, who has a PB of 2:06:10 from Seoul last year, was 17th at the Rio Olympic Games, and finished 14th at the IAAF World Championships in London this year.
The defending champion, Evans Kiplagat of Azerbaijan, will be back as well. The 29-year old, who hasn’t raced in a marathon nearly one year, will be eager to top the podium again. Kiplagat’s most recent appearance in Istanbul was the Half Marathon in April, which he finished in a time of 1:01:47.
Paul Koech, one of the fastest 3000m steeplechase runners in history, is set to run the second marathon of his career. Following a half marathon debut of 1:01:03 in March, Koech ran 2:12:02 in Rotterdam in April, a moderate performance for his potential.
Others to watch include Ethiopian Seboka Dibaba who set a 2:06:17 PB in Dubai in 2012; Kenyan Philip Kangogo, who clocked 2:08:16 in Barcelona in 2015; Ezekiel Kemboi Omullo, who set his 2:08:55 PB in Warsaw last year; and the consistent veteran Kenneth Mburu Mungara who holds a 2:07:36 PB from 2011.
Jepkesho and Mengistu revive rivalry
Istanbul welcomes a fast women’s field, headlined by Visiline Jepkesho who produced a huge PB in Paris this year of 2:21:37, slicing more than three minutes off her previous best set also in Paris two years ago.
At the 2015 edition of the Paris Marathon, Meseret Mengistu had left a strong field behind including Jepkesho. Her winning time of 2:23:26 still stands as her best. The Ethiopian, who won in Beijing in 2016 and in Xiamen this year, will be one of the hot favourites on Sunday.
There is another Ethiopian who could do well in Istanbul. Mulu Seboka achieved her personal best of 2:21:56 in Dubai in 2015. The Ethiopian finished her only marathon this year in 2:29:17 in Prague in May.
Letebrhan Haylay, with a career best of 2:25:01, is likely to be one of the strong contenders in the race, considering that the 27-year old Ethiopian has been consistently improving over the last two years.
Sharon Jemutai Cherop is also an outstanding athlete on the start list with a personal best of 2:22:28 but this time was achieved back in 2013, and the Kenyan will be running her first marathon after maternity leave. The 33-year old still has the potential to surprise the rest of the field.
The women’s race will also feature Diana Lobacevske of Lithuania, 17th in Rio Olympic Games, who was the best ranked European at the London Marathon this year finishing in 2:28:48, and Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich, winner of Istanbul Half Marathon with 1:06:19 seven months ago, who will step up the distance and run her marathon debut.
Last year’s winner Agnes Jeruto Barsosio has been forced to withdraw from the race due to injury.
The Istanbul Marathon women’s race record and the Turkish all-comers record stands at 2:27:27, and was run by Ethiopia’s Ashu Kasim Rabo also in 2010.
In addition to the marathon, a 15km and a 10km race will be staged simultaneously, leading to an overall figure of 25,000 runners. The traditional fun run over a distance of 8km is expected to attract another 100,000 entrants on the day as usual. The forecast calls for partly sunny conditions on Sunday with temperatures ranging between 15 and 17C from the start to the finish.
Can Korkmazoglu (organisers) for the IAAF