The start of the 2004 Monaco Marathon (loc) © Copyright

Distinguished starters both on and off the course - 9th Monaco Marathon – PREVIEW

MonacoThe ninth edition of the Monaco Marathon takes place this Sunday 13 November, and has attracted a small but well matched elite field in the men’s and women’s races, composed mainly of east Africans and east Europeans, which should provide for a gritty battle on the notoriously tough course.

HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco and Paula Radcliffe to signal the start

The marathon route as the race’s full name signals - ‘Marathon de Monaco et des Riviera’ - encompasses more than just the territory of this tiny Mediterranean Principality. From its starting point, outside the IAAF’s HQ in the Boulevard des Moulins, to the finish of the 42.195km distance at the Stade Louis II in the district of Fontvieille, the race traverses the borders of three countries. The French communities of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton, and the Italian border town of Vintimille are inextricably linked to this annual sporting festival as is Monaco.

Runners from 40 countries make this a truly international affair, with 2000 marathoners starting their ordeal on the arduous course at 09.30hrs, with another 1300 participants, registered for the 3rd edition of the Monte-Carlo 10km, departing 45 minutes later.

This year the marathon runners will be set on their way by the principality’s sovereign, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, who will be joined for the occasion by women’s World record holder Paula Radcliffe (GBR).

The best times for the Monaco Marathon are held by Kenneth Cheruiyot of Kenya (1999 - 2:11:26) and Italy’s Maura Viceconte (1997 - 2:28:16), and there is a 3600 euro first prize for both men and women, with a bonus of 3000 should either mark be bettered.

MEN – 2:14 pace

Neither of last year’s winners, Andrey Chernychov of Ukraine (2:22:12) or Maria Fedosseva of Russia (2:41:17) - who also won the women’s race in 2002 - will return this year. However, there will be several top talents following the planned 2:14 pace of the official ‘rabbit’ Mark Kibet of Kenya.

Topping this year’s elite is Kenya’s Madrid Marathon runner-up, John Kirui, who has run the fastest time this year of all the entrants - 2:13:29. That time is also the 27-year-old’s personal best (PB) but in this department he is outclassed by three of his opponents – Anatoly Zeruk of Ukraine (2:11:50 – 1998), Poland’s Jacek Kasprzyk (2:11:59 – 1994), and Russia’s Sergei Kaledine (2:12:14 – 1997) who all have quicker career PBs. Kaledine, in particular, is a regular face in the Monaco Marathon, having achieved a fourth place finish in both 2002 and last year, and third step on the podium in 2003.

However, there are two outside choices on the race card who might just find the hilly Monaco course suited to their abilities, as Czech Robert Kupricka and French marathon debutant Nicolas Pasquion both have notable credentials as mountain runners. Kupricka was third in the 2003 European Mountain Running Championship and leads the current Grand Prix standings for that discipline, while the Frenchman, has been fifth (2003) and second (2004) in the European Mountain Running Championships.

WOMEN – Romania versus Russia

The women’s field on paper at least provides a more plausible attack on the race record of 2:28:16, as 33-year-old Romanian Alina Gherasim has a PB which is just one second slower. This performance was she set when finishing second in the 2000 Paris Marathon. In terms of her overall racing CV, the Romanian is the absolute favourite, having won the Paris race in 1996, finished second on three other occasions and third on another in the French capital, all in sub 2:30 clockings. Gherasim was also seventh in New York (1999).

However, given that the Romanian is taking part in her first marathon since maternity leave, it is maybe in a quartet of sub-2:38 Russians led by 32-year-old Olga Bylinkina, that more realistic hopes for victory rest. Bylinkina is the 2004 Russian Marathon champion, who won that race in Moscow in a PB of 2:33:01, and later in the year also took the title at the Palm Beach Marathon in Florida, USA. The Russian’s nearest challenger should be Ukraine’s Tatyana Bulyshenko, 33, who has a PB of 2:37:15 (2004) and won this year’s Linz Marathon.

Chris Turner for the IAAF