Favourites Ayele Abshero and Tsegaye Kebede will be gunning for Olympic team berths at the NM Marathon Rotterdam, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (10).
The fast Ethiopian pair are among a slew of runners whose Rio 2016 Olympic Games aspirations lie along the fast course that winds through the western Dutch city; and that’s the main objective for the race’s 36th edition, according to race organisers: to help athletes qualify for their respective national Olympic squads.
In the men’s contest, Race Director Marc Corstjens will be trying to build a strong and cooperative field in the two lead groups, the first led by Abshero and Kebede, who boast 2:04:23 and 2:04:38 career bests, respectively.
The two are fully aware that they’ll have to produce very fast times for national team consideration.
Abshero’s personal best came in his debut in Dubai in 2012; a year later he finished an impressive third at the London Marathon before his rise was halted by a series of injuries.
“Afterwards I had a year of injuries and I could not improve,” said Abshero, now 25. “But now my body is in a good shape again. I think I’m capable of running 2:04 again and I really want to qualify for the Olympics although I realise that it will be tough.”
Three other Ethiopians have run under 2:05 this year, all in January's Dubai race: Tesfaye Abera (2:04:24), Lemi Berhanu (2:04:33) and Tsegaye Mekonnen (2:04:46).
That’s a trio that Kebede, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, will be chasing on Sunday as well. His lone sub-2:05 performance came with his 2012 victory in Chicago but he’s also won twice in London and once in Fukuoka and Paris, making him the most experienced runner in Rotterdam.
“I choose to run here as I wanted a fast course,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t in good shape and decided to withdraw from competition. But now I feel that I’m coming back.”
Kebede admits that he prefers tactical races in which he can rely on his typically stronger second half. “But on Sunday we will have to run fast because I really want to go to Rio.”
Mwangangi leading the Kenyan challenge
The same holds true Kenya's John Mwangangi, another favourite, who’ll need a big improvement on his 2:06:13 personal best set in Valencia last year.
“I have been running a lot of races in the Netherlands and I was the pacemaker here, so I know the course very well,” said the 25-year-old who’s been training close to his home in the eastern Kenyan town of Mwingi so that he can share childcare duties.
“I’ve been training very well and I’m happy with the progression I’ve made in recent years. So I hope we can work together closely on Sunday and all of us can finish in a good time.”
In his most recent outing, Mwangangi finished fifth in February’s World’s Best 10K in San Juan, clocking 28:00, just seven seconds shy of his personal best.
Others expected in the lead group are the Ethiopian pair Bazu Worku (personal best of 2:05:25) and Limenih Getachew (2:06:49) and the Kenyan trio of Mark Kiptoo (2:06:00), Matthew Kisorio (2:06:33) and Lani Rutto (2:06:34).
The second group includes runners chasing various national qualifying norms including Dutchman Koen Raymaekers and Poland's Gizynski Mariusz, who are targeting 2:11 and 2:11:30 times respectively.
In the women’s contest, expectations are high for Sutume Asefa Kebede, the 22-year-old Ethiopian made an impressive debut in Dubai this year clocking 2:24:00 and finishing fourth. A year ago Kebede produced a 1:21:55 national record over 25km in Berlin.
Another contender is Letebrhan Haylay, who has a 2:25:24 best set in Prague last year. Malika Asahssah from Morocco (2:28:01) also has sub-2:30 credentials.
The fastest among the entries is Sweden's Isabellah Andersson whose 2:23:41 dates back to 2011. Her target this time around is 2:28:00.
The forecast suggests slightly chilly temperatures around sxi degrees Celsius at the start before rising two to three degrees when the first men cross the line; there could also be slight winds although the organisers are hoping it doesn't gust as strongly as 12 months ago, but at least there is little chance of rain.
Organisers are expecting aroiund 40,000 runners in all the weekend's various races, with an estimated 17,000 starting the marathon.
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF