Defending champion Mulu Seboka of Ethiopia will return to Dalian aiming to retain her title at the 32nd edition of the ICBC Cup - Dalian International Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label road race, on Sunday (12).
The 34-year-old Seboka overcame a stomach pain in the late stages of the race to notch her convincing 2:28:59 victory in Dalian last year. She also took the top honours in China’s Shenzhen in 2:27:12 last December.
As the fastest entrant in the northeast coastal city of China, whose career best of 2:21:56 was set in Dubai in 2015, Seboka will still stand as the biggest hope for the win as well as to assault on the course record of 2:26:12.
Ethiopia’s Ashu Kasim, also 34, is the second fastest women on paper thanks to her 2:23:09 victory in Xiamen in 2012. But the former winner in Marrakech, Lanzhou, and Istanbul has been struggling to find her best form in recent seasons, failing to break the 2:30 barrier since her second finish in Seoul in March 2014.
Agai Margaret of Kenya could be the biggest threat to Seboka. The 30-year-old set her life-time best of 2:23:28 with her victory at the 2013 Daegu Marathon. She came close to that mark last year with a second finish in Seoul in 2:24:30. The consistent Kenyan has gained nine podium finishes in her previous ten races over the classic distance including victories in Shanghai and Madrid.
The deep field also includes Kenya’s Rodah Chepkorir, third finisher of last year who just improved her PB to 2:27:38 last month, and Ethiopian duo Meseret Legese, who set her PB of 2:25:43 in Wuhan, and Tsegaye Melesech, a 2:26:44 performer with her last title obtained in Beijing in 2017.
With the absence of Kenya’s defending champion Edwin Kibet Koech, who produced the first sub-2:10 mark in Dalian to set the course record of 2:09:44, Willy Ngelel, the runner-up last year and 2017 winner, is the highest ranked returnee.
The 22-year-old Kenyan took a 2:13:48 win two years ago and clocked a PB of 2:10:31 in Dalian last year. But regaining the title on Sunday will be a tough mission for Ngelel as he will be facing a strong field with 10 sub-2:10 runners.
Ethiopia’s Bazu Worku owns the fastest PB in the entry list with his third finish at the 2010 Berlin Marathon in 2:05:25. The three-time Houston Marathon winner has maintained a high level of competitiveness in recent years, achieving sub-2:09 results in both of the previous two seasons.
Ernest Ngeno of Kenya is another man to watch. The 24-year-old improved his PB to 2:06:41 last April in Paris and has gained vast experience competing in China including victories in Dongying and Hengshui. Ngeno failed to finish the Lake Biwa Marathon last month and will be keen to prove his worth in his first appearance on the Dalian course.
Another sub-2:10 runner in the field is Cosmas Birech of Kenya who achieved a PB of 2:08:03 from his victory in Rome last year.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF