The Acea Rome Marathon on Sunday (17) , an IAAF Gold Label race, will be the 19th edition of this popular event which has grown over recent years to become the fastest, and arguably the best, Italian race over this classic distance.
Both the men’s and women’s all-comers record were set in the Italian capital, with the men’s course record held by Benjamin Kiptoo with 2:07:17 in 2009 and Russia’s Galina Bogomolova having the women’s mark with 2:22:53 in 2008.
No less than 14,000 runners from 82 countries are expected to take part in the Rome Marathon: 8000 runners coming from Italy and another 6000 will come from abroad but the competitive races will be an all-African battle between the two leading marathon powerhouses Kenya and Ethiopia in the men’s race, and an interesting fight between Africa and Eastern Europe in the women’s contest.
Kenyan runners have won the Rome Marathon 11 times and Luka Lokobe Kanda, the winner of the 2012 edition, will return to the starting line in the famous Fori Imperiali after improving his best from 2:08:40 to 2:08:04 when clinching the Rome title 12 months ago.
The fastest man in the field is Ethiopia’s Chala Dechasa, who clocked 2:06:33 in the 2010 Dubai Marathon. More recently he ran 2:08:47 in Rotterdam in 2010 and then 2:09:22 in Dubai 2012.
The other sub-2:07 runner in the line-up is Kenya’s Sylvester Kimeli Teimet, who won the 2010 Dong-A Seoul Marathon in 2:06:49. Teimet also won the Shanghai marathon last December.
Another serious contender for a top three place will be Ethiopia’s Bekana Tolesa, who has a best of 2:07:04 from the 2011 Houston Marathon. His compatriot Getachew Negari Terfa will run his second marathon in 2013, after clocking a best of 2:07:13 in Xiamen, China, little more than two months ago.
There are also five Kenyans to watch out for. Stephan Chemlany clocked 2:07:55 in the 2011 Berlin Marathon, Samson Kiprono Barmao finished as the Rome runner-up last year in 2:08:52 while Jacob Kiplagat Yator, Victor Kipchirchir Lagat and Raymond Kiplagat Kandie all have bests between 2:09 and 2:10.
Injury sadly forced the 2012 SPAR European Cross Country Championships gold medallist Andrea Lalli out of the race, in which he was originally planning to make his debut over the 42km distance.
Can Europe repel the African challenge?
European runners have not won the women’s race in Rome since 2008 but a strong Eastern European contingent may put an end to this barren streak.
The last European winner in Rome was Galina Bogomolova who broke the course record of 2:22:53 in 2008 before Fiehiwot Dado began her hat-trick of winning three years in a row between 2009 and 2011
This year, the European challenge is led by Turkey’s Sultan Haydar, who finished runner-up in Paris last year with a national record of 2:25:09.
The other top European runners to watch are Ukraine’s Tatyana Filonyuk, who clocked 2:26:24 in Rome in 2010 before going on to win the European Athletics Championships silver medal in Barcelona the same year. Russia’s Olga Glock and Belarus’ Nastassia Staravoitava also have personal bests under 2:28.
The fastest African runner in the field is Ethiopia’s Ashu Kasim, who set her 2:23:09 personal best when she won in Xiamen in 2012.
She will be strongly challenged by Kenya’s Helena Kirop, who has also dipped under 2:24 when running 2:23:37 in the 2011 Venice Marathon.
Five other African runners also catch the eye.
The Ethiopian quartet of Goietom Haftu Tesema, Sechale Adugna Dalasa, Derbe Godana Gebissa and Eshetu Degefa all currently have personal best times in the 2:26-2:27 range.
Kenya’s Hellen Mugo has won marathons in Belgrade, Carpi, Mombasa and Kosice and has a best of 2:27:16 set in 2010.
The Rome Marathon boasts one of the most spectacular courses in the world.
The race sets off in front of the Coliseum. Runners run across Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Venezia, Circo Massimo through narrow cobblestone streets which make the race very hard but contribute to giving Rome a unique quality among the leading marathon races in the world.
More than 500 historic monuments, landmarks and archaeological sites are passed during the race.
The Eternal city will be at the centre of the world’s attention this weekend because of the celebrations for the new Pope.
The Marathon start has been confirmed at 0930 from the Fori Imperiali although the course does not reach the St Peter’s area in the Vatican City.
Alongside the 42km main event, a popular 5 km Fun Race will be staged. The non-competitive Fun Race reached a record of 80000 entries in most recent years.
The Rome Marathon is also much more than just a sporting event. Over 50 cultural, music and arts events will take place along the course to add extra interest to the race and to make the atmosphere even more enjoyable.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF