Kenyan runners Julius Chepkwony and Philemon Limo will start as favourites for the 30th edition of the Venice Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (25).
Chepkwony leads the field with a personal best of 2:09:00 set in Daegu in 2014 and ran another sub 2:10 time of 2:09:09 in Eindhoven three years ago.
The second fastest main is Limo, with a best of 2:09:25 from the 2012 Prague Marathon, his one and only outing over the distance.
Limo, however, is on the comeback trail and has not raced internationally for more than two years,. Although he was one of the world's top half marathon runners in the period between 2011 and 2013, his current shape is an unknown quantity but can't be discarded because has such a formidable set of credentials over the shorter distance.
The contingent of Kenyan runners also features Emmanuel Sikuku who finished fourth at the 2014 Zurich Marathon in 2:11:20 and Robert Mangata Ndiwa, who was fifth at the 2011 Turin Marathon in a personal best of 2:11:02.
The best Italian runners in the field are Domenico Ricatti, who set the fastest time of his career with 2:15:07 in Rome in 2014, and Giovanni Gualdi, second at the Padua Marathon with his lifetime best of 2:13:39.
Caroline Chepkony is the fastest woman in the field with a best of 2:27:27, set when the Kenyan won the 2013 Lubljana Marathon.
Two more sub-2:30 runners are the Ethiopian pair of Gebre Gebissa Godana, who finished fourth in Turin with 2:27:32, and Ehite Bizuayehu who won the 2013 Seville Marathon in 2:29:52 in 2013.
This popular event in the Italian city began in 1986 thanks to the initiative of former IAAF President Primo Nebiolo and Piero Rosa Salva, the current President of the Venice Marathon Club.
The first two editions were highlighted by wins for Salvatore Bettiol, who went on to finish fifth at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Local talent dominant in the early years
Other famous Italian runners followed on the roll of honour of this race.
Two-time New York Marathon winner Orlando Pizzolato won the 1988 Venice Marathon and 1988 Olympic champion Gelindo Bordin crowned his superb 1990 season with a first place in Venice after winning the Boston Marathon and the European Championships gold medal in Split.
Italian runners also dominated the early years of the women’s race with well-known names like Laura Fogli, Ornella Ferrara, Maura Viceconte and Lucilla Andreucci all winning.
The Venice Marathon also launched the career of Martin Lel who finished second in Venice in 2002 behind David Makori and went on to win the London Marathon three times in 2005, 2007 and 2008 and the New York Marathon in 2003 and 2007.
The men’s and women’s course records are 2:08:13 and 2:23:37 set by Kenyans John Komen and Helena Kirop in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
“This year’s edition will crown a long tradition which started in 1986 when a small group of friends came up with a fascinating but crazy idea to hold a marathon race with a strong social and cultural significance," commented Salva.
"I want to remember two special persons who helped us fulfil our dream: Primo Nebiolo who realized that our idea would have been a winning one and helped us develop it, and the famous journalist Paolo Rosi, the historic athletics ‘voice’ for the Italian RAI television who made the commentary work during the inaugural edition, which augured a great future for the Venice Marathon,” he added.
No less than 8000 runners will take part in the marathon itself, over the traditional course from Villa Pisani in Stra, a small town around 25 kilometres from Venice.
The runners hit the waterfront in Venice just beyond St.Mark's Square in Venice after passing along the Venetian villas on the Brenta Riviera, and then run across the Grand Canal on a special bridge set up for the event, before passing through St. Mark's Square – the only sports event that is allowed to take place in the famous landmark – and then onto the finish.
Another 4000 runners will compete in an associated 10km race and there also three Ali Family Runs, with a total of 9000 school children in San Dona di Piave and Dolo, and another 6000 in Mestre.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF