Dejene Debela wins the 2018 Xiamen Marathon (Xiamen organisers) © Copyright

Debela faces tough title defence in Xiamen

Reigning champion Dejene Debela of Ethiopia will face stiff opposition at the 17th edition of Xiamen Marathon, the first IAAF Gold Label road race of 2019, on Sunday (6).

The 23-year-old Debela, whose personal best of 2:07:10 was set in 2017 when he was fourth at the Eindhoven Marathon, led an Ethiopian top-three finish last year in Xiamen where he pulled away in the final kilometre to take his first marathon title in 2:11:22.

Because of the heavy rain that dogged him from almost gun to finish, Debele’s winning mark in the southern Chinese city was the slowest in 11 years, more than five minutes shy of the 2:06:19 course record set by Moses Mosop in 2015, which has stood as China’s all-comers’ record since.

This time Debela will be running in better conditions as the forecast calls for a cloudy day with temperature ranging from 14-18 C. But his title defence will not be easy as he faces a strong field that includes three sub-2:06 runners.

Eliud Kiptanui of Kenya is the fastest man in the field. He clocked a PB of 2:05:21 to finish second at the 2015 Berlin Marathon. Last year, the 29-year-old produced a season’s best of 2:08:20 to finish fifth in Paris.

Bazu Worku, 28, is the second fastest entrant with his career best of 2:05:25 dating back to 2010. The experienced Ethiopian has remained in solid form in recent years, collecting his third Houston Marathon title in 2:08:30 12 months ago. It will be Worku’s first race in China since his marathon debut in 2009.

Kenya’s Peter Kimeli Some is another man to watch. The 28-year-old registered his PB of 2:05:38 to win the 2013 Paris Marathon and he came close to that mark when finishing third at the Daegu Marathon in 2:06:49 last April, the second fastest time of his career.

The women’s field will be led by Shasho Insermu. The 25-year-old Ethiopian trimmed more than six and a half minutes off her PB to finish second in Amsterdam in 2:23:28 three month ago. Although it is her first and only sub-2:30 performance, Insermu is known for her efficiency as she has grabbed five titles in nine marathon races.

Kenya’s Janet Jelagat Rono is the biggest hope to end a nine-year winning streak by Ethiopian runners in the women’s race in Xiamen. The 30-year-old achieved her lifetime best of 2:26:03 at the Tokyo Marathon back in 2014 and clocked 2:28:01 last April to take the top honours in Daegu, which was the sixth marathon title of her career following victories in Ljubljana, Cologne, Hong Kong, Panama City and Mazatlan.

Ethiopia’s Fantu Jimma, meanwhile, is still chasing her first marathon win. The 31-year-old clocked a PB of 2:26:14 in Dubai four years ago and came close in 2016 after finishing third in Xiamen in 2:26:53. But she hasn’t managed to break the 2:30 barrier since. Her best performance in 2018 is a third place finish in Hong Kong in 2:30:10.

Jimma’s compatriot Tsehay Desalegn is also a serious contender. The 27-year-old has vast experience competing in China including winning the title in Danzhou and Lanzhou. Two months ago Desalegn improved her PB by one minute to finish second at the Hangzhou Marathon.

The field also include five other sub-2:30 runners including Ethiopia’s Milliam Ebongon, who made her debut over the classic distance last year and has a PB of 2:27:16, and Chinese hopeful He Yinli, who finished second at the 2015 Chongqing Marathon with a PB of 2:27:35.

Vincent Wu for the IAAF