Biruktayit Eshetu wins the Sydney Marathon (Delly Carr) © Copyright
Preview Sydney, Australia

Eshetu and Burka back to defend Sydney Marathon titles

Ethiopia’s Biruktayit Eshetu and Gebo Burka will defend both their titles and their race records in the Blackmores Sydney Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (20).

Eshetu will in fact be going for a hat-trick of victories in the 15th edition of the marathon, which is part of the wider Sydney Running Festival, and predicted good conditions offer the winners excellent chances of breaking the records set by Eshetu (2:29:42) and Burka (2:11:18) in last year’s event.

The race records appear quite modest, but the course is relatively difficult with a couple of significant climbs in the early stages and then several changes of running surface in the later stages as it winds around Circular Quay to the Opera House finish.

Nonetheless, with prize money doubled for performances under 2:12:00 and 2:28:00, there is no lack of incentive for the two champions and the rest of the elite field.

Eshetu looks the best of the women’s field on recent performances. She came to Sydney last year off a personal best in Houston at the start of 2014 and further marathons in Los Angeles, Lanzhou and Eugene, winning the latter.

After winning in Sydney, she ran and won in the Chinese city of Xichang, making it three wins from six marathons in 2014.

This year has not been quite so demanding. Eshetu again began the year with a personal best in Houston, running 2:23:51 before finishing sixth in Paris. Who knows what she might do off such a relatively restful preparation.

Last year’s runner-up Jane Kiptoo and the 36-year-old veteran Miriam Wangari represent the Kenyan challenge to Eshetu.

Kiptoo began her international career way back in 1999 in the 400m at the first World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz and has since progressed steadily upwards in distance.

Her marathon personal best is 2:31:21 in 2014 and she has a win in Geneva, in 2:35:44, to her name this year.

Wangari began the year with a third place in a best of 2:27:53 in Xiamen. The race was won by the 2015 world champion Mare Dibaba in 2:19:52, so that represents good current form for Wangari.

Ethiopia’s Alemitu Abera Begna has a personal best of 2:23:14, but that dates back to 2012 while China’s Sun Lamei has run 2:27:55 but, again, that was in 2012 and her current form is not as impressive.

Burka the hardest to beat?

Gebo Burka was not the fastest of the top contenders in last year’s race. Nor is he this year, his 2:08:12 personal best is 34 seconds slower than that of Nicholas Chelimo, of Kenya.

However, just like last time, Burka has the current form to suggest that if he does not win, he will be hardest to beat for whoever does.

Besides his course record 2:11:18 to win in 2014, the 28-year-old Ethiopian has won marathons in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Istanbul. He has been a little more selective in 2015, his one marathon in Houston at the start of the year earning him a big personal best.

Burka was celebrated his birthday on the Thursday before the race. No doubt victory and race record would be highly appreciated, if belated, birthday presents.

Chelimo ran his personal best in Eindhoven in 2010. His most recent sub-2:10 outing was in winning in Cologne two years ago and his most recent performance a 2:16:45 in Kosice last year. That makes his form hard to read, but the 32-year-old Kenyan must be respected.

Ruggero Pertile (personal best 2:09:53), Cuthbert Nyasango (2:09:52) and Ghebrezgiabhier Kibrom (2:09:36) all have stronger current claims.

Pertile, now 41, finished fourth in the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 marathon after doing a lot of the work in the middle stages.

Presumably, most of his work since then has been focused on recovery, but with two top-eight finishes in world championships (he was eighth in Daegu in 2011), he looms as a genuine chance.

Nyasango also ran in Beijing four weeks ago, finishing 23rd. The Zimbabwean, who coincidently also celebrated his birthday on Thursday, was seventh in the London 2012 Olympic Games marathon and 16th in Daegu. Kibrom ran 2:09:36 in finishing eighth in this year’s London Marathon.

The 15th Sydney Marathon will set off from Milsons Point, beneath the northern end of the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge, at 7:20am local time.  The course will take runners over the Bridge, through Hyde Park, out to Moore Park and around Centennial Park, passing close to the famous sporting venues Sydney Cricket Ground and Randwick Racecourse.

The course then returns through the historic Rocks precinct, along Hickson Road and out to Darling Harbor before coming back around Circular Quay to finish at the Sydney Opera House.

Len Johnson for the IAAF