When Vivian Cheruiyot stands on the start line for the Mainova Frankfurt Marathon on Sunday (29), she will become the first ever Olympic champion to contest the IAAF Gold Label road race.
The Frankfurt Marathon has something of a reputation for acting as a springboard for a number of promising marathon runners.
Wilson Kipsang is perhaps the most prominent example. He won in Frankfurt with 2:04:57 in 2010 and then returned a year later to win again in a still-standing course record of 2:03:42, missing the world record by only four seconds. Two years later, Kipsang broke the world record in Berlin.
Back in 2008 Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot travelled to Frankfurt for his first race outside Kenya and ended up winning in a course record of 2:07:21. Just 18 months later, he won the 2010 Boston Marathon with a course record of 2:05:52.
“The Mainova Frankfurt Marathon is an immersion heater for elite athletes,” said race director Jo Schindler during the press conference ahead of the 36th edition on Sunday.
“Hopefully the next runner to take a major step in her marathon career here in Frankfurt is Vivian Cheruiyot.”
Indeed, the Olympic 5000m champion from Kenya might be the one who could turn up the heat in the marathon market after Sunday’s race. Before winning in Rio last year, Cheruiyot had won five world titles: two at 5000m (2009 and 2011), two at 10,000m (2011 and 2015) and one at cross country (2011).
“I’ll run hard and I want to improve my personal best,” said Cheruiyot, who ran 2:23:50 on her marathon debut in London earlier this year and heads to Frankfurt off the back of a 1:07:44 half marathon PB set at last month’s Great North Run.
The plan is to go through halfway in 1:10:00 to give the leaders a chance of finishing within 2:20. It would also give them a chance of breaking the course record of 2:21:01 set by Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu five years ago and pocketing the €30,000 bonus that goes with it.
“I expect we’ll be paying out on that bonus,” said elite race coordinator Christoph Kopp. The aim is a course record for the women.”
But Cheruiyot is just one of a number of athletes capable of winning on Sunday. There are five women on the entry list with faster marathon times than the Olympic champion.
With a best of 2:20:27, set when finishing second at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, Ethiopia’s Feyse Tadese is the fastest in the women’s field. The 28-year-old won the Seoul and Shanghai marathons in 2012 and then won the 2013 Paris Marathon, but since setting her PB in 2014 she has contested just two marathons.
“I will go with the first group,” said the 2012 world half marathon silver medallist. “And of course it is my aim to win the race.”
Fellow Ethiopian Yebrqual Melese carries good momentum into Frankfurt, having set PBs of 2:23:13 and 2:22:51 this year. Compatriots Abebech Afework and Meskerem Assefa have slightly slower season’s bests, but both are undefeated this year in the marathon.
Germany’s Fate Tola is aiming to run somewhere in the region of 2:25. “I am well prepared and intend to run the first half in 73 minutes,” said Tola, who won the Hannover Marathon earlier this year in 2:27:48. “After that I will see what is possible. It might depend on the weather as well since the forecast is for windy conditions.”
While much of the focus is on the women’s race, the immersion heater may well be switched on for the men’s race too.
Defending champion Mark Korir will once again battle with the runner-up from 2016, fellow Kenyan Martin Kosgei.
“I have trained well and I hope to break my personal best on Sunday,” said Korir, won in Frankfurt last year in 2:06:48, less than a minute shy of his 2:05:49 PB set when winning the 2015 Paris Marathon. “Maybe even a 2:04 time is possible.”
Getu Feleke is the only man in the field who has run such a time. The Ethiopian clocked 2:04:50 in Rotterdam in 2012 and has also set course records of 2:05:44 in Amsterdam in 2010 and 2:05:41 in Vienna in 2014.
Health problems have hampered his performances in recent years, but the 30-year-old is optimistic for Sunday. “I am in fine form and want to win the race,” he says. “If the weather is fine, a personal best becomes a goal.”
Arne Gabius returns to the scene of his German record. Two years ago he clocked 2:08:33 in Frankfurt but has since been troubled by injury. His recent form, however, has been on an upward curve and he has also recently celebrated a family achievement. On Thursday evening his wife Anne gave birth to their first child, Frederik Bosse.
“Arne can now relax and run well,” said race director Jo Schindler. “I’m sure of that.”
Organisers for the IAAF
Getu Feleke (ETH) 2:04:50
Mark Korir (KEN) 2:05:49
Martin Kosgei (KEN) 2:07:22
Shure Kitata Tola (ETH) 2:07:28
Kelkile Gezahegn (ETH) 2:07:29
Henryk Szost (POL) 2:07:39
Arne Gabius (GER) 2:08:33
Mark Lokwanamoi (KEN) 2:08:39
Afewerk Mesfin (ETH) 2:09:49
Raymond Chemungor (KEN) 2:10:06
Jared Shegumo (POL) 2:10:34
Abdelhadi El Hachimi (BEL) 2:10:35
William Ngelel (KEN) 2:10:50
Artur Kozlowski (POL) 2:10:58
Feyse Tadese (ETH) 2:20:27
Yebrqual Melese (ETH) 2:22:51
Merima Mohammed (BRN) 2:23:06
Guteni Shone (ETH) 2:23:32
Abebech Afework (ETH) 2:23:33
Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:23:50
Meskerem Assefa (ETH) 2:24:18
Fate Tola (GER) 2:25:14
Sara Hall (USA) 2:28:26
Katharina Heinig (GER) 2:28:34