Runners in the 2015 Zurich Maraton de Sevilla (Juan Jose Ubeda / Zurich Maraton de Sevilla) © Copyright
Preview Seville, Spain

Assefa and Debebe the favourites in Seville

Ethiopians Fikre Assefa and Zinash Debebe will be among the favourites at the Zurich Maraton de Sevilla, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (23). The race, which boasts one of the flattest courses worldwide, will also serve as the Spanish championships for the distance which has attracted the local crème.

Men’s race – Assefa to strike

Assefa seems to be the field’s most in-form runner as he finished last year on a high by setting a career best of 2:08:36 in Kosice for second, his first ever sub-2:10 clocking. The 29-year-old will be joined by compatriot Tubuja Megersa, who boasts a 59:53 half marathon best from 2011. He will racing for the first time in nearly two years as his last effort was a 2:09:28 PB in the 2016 Rome Marathon.

The Kenyan challenge will be led by Kipsang Kipkemboi, third last year in a massive career best of 2:08:26. He will be making his first appearance since then alongside Douglas Chebii, who came fourth on that occasion but had to settle for a 2:12:32 performance in Istanbul last November, and Laban Kipkemboi Mutai, holder of the quickest time among the entrants thanks to a 2:08:01 outing in 2012. However, the 33-year-old will need to improve on his last appearance – a 2:15:01 run in Cape Town – to be in the hunt for victory on Sunday.

The Spanish pair of Javier Guerra and Jesús España should wage a fierce battle for the national title, a rivalry that might lead them to the top spots on Sunday. The 34-year-old Guerra is in the form of his life, fresh from a massive half marathon career best of 1:01:38 set in Granollers earlier this month. That suggests he could duck under the 2:09 barrier, better than his current PB of 2:09:33 in London 2015.

As for the evergreen 39-year-old España, one of the most successful Spanish athletes ever, he will be looking for his ticket to next summer’s European championships in Berlin. Sunday’s will be only his third attempt over the distance after a 2:11:58 debut in Seville two years ago to gain his 2016 Olympic berth. The 2002 European 5000m champion has already announced that this will be his farewell season. On his plans for Sunday, España said, “My first goal is to improve my PB and the second to dip under the 2:10.”

Wide open women’s race

The women’s event features a fine Ethiopian contingent including Zinash Debebe, who set her career best of 2:30:38 in Beirut last November; Sechale Delasa, the fastest contender with a 2:26:27 clocking from 2012; Tejitu Siyum with a 2:33:21 best; and the 2015 world youth 1500m champion Bedatu Hirpa. Although Delasa hasn’t raced since November 2016 when she was timed at 2:33:37 in Istanbul, the 19-year-old Hirpa will be making her second marathon appearance after a 2:34:18 winning debut in Athens last November.

Kenya’s Josephine Jepkoech, a 1:08:53 half marathoner, will be tackling the longer distance for the first time and might also be a factor. Morocco’s Boulaid Kaoutar finished runner-up in Seville a couple of years ago in a career best of 2:31:26 and has also managed a half marathon best on Spanish soil after clocking 1:10:58 for the distance in Valencia last October. Portugal’s Filomena Costa, the 2015 victor, will also be in contention, her last outing being a victorious 1:14:09 half marathon effort in Viana do Castelo.

Watch out too for Britain’s Alyson Dixon as the 39-year-old managed a PB of 2:29:06 in London last Spring and then finished a creditable 18th at the World Championships. The experienced Briton comes back to Spain after her 32:57 10km clocking at Madrid’s San Silvestre Vallecana on New Year’s Eve. Spain’s hopes rest on Marta Esteban, a 2:30:47 performer.

The course record belongs to Portugal’s Marisa Barros who ran a then-PB of 2:26:03 back in 2009.

The marathon will pass several iconic landmarks, including ‘La Giralda’, one of the largest cathedrals in the world, the ‘La Real Maestranza’ bullring or ‘La Torre del Oro’. The finish line will be placed inside La Cartuja stadium, venue of the 1999 IAAF World Championships where the local hero Abel Antón grabbed the second of his back-to-back marathon titles.

The first record of the event came one month ago with a sold-out 13,000 entries from no fewer than 73 countries, 23% of the runners coming from overseas and 13% being women.

While the summer heat in the city is usually unbearable, the weather at this time of year should be nearly ideal for endurance efforts. Weather forecasters predict a partly sunny day with temperatures between 12-14C by the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF