Paul Kirui wins 33rd edition of ING Amsterdam Marathon (organisers) © Copyright

Kirui and Kisri top the men’s field, Gigi the favourite in the women’s – Xiamen Marathon Preview

Xiamen, ChinaThe ninth edition of the Xiamen International MarathonIAAF Gold Label Road Race - set for Sunday (2) has attracted a higher caliber of top international runners than last year, many of them with times faster than the course record including Kenya’s Paul Kiprop Kirui and Moroccan Rachid Kisri, a returnee, both under 2:06:50.

Course record assault? – Men’s race

The course record of 2:08:47 was set in 2009 by Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa. Although he is not expected to run, Kirui, with a 2:06:44 personal best from Rotterdam in 2006, has run considerably faster. So has Kisri, who took third in Xiamen in 2009, who as a comparable 2:06:48 PB from Paris in 2009.

Another returnee, Elias Kemboi Chelimo, just set a new PB by over a minute to 2:07:04 in October in Frankfurt. The Kenyan took second in Xiamen in 2008. Ethiopian Negari Terfa Getachew, also returns to Xiamen for the second time. His PB (2:07:41) in Berlin in 2009 is two minutes better than when he won the 2010 Xiamen Marathon. But fellow Ethiopian Gudisa Shentema, with a 2:07:34 career best from Paris in 2008, is new to the course.

Several Kenyans are trying their luck in Xiamen for the first time. The winner of the Kosice Marathon, Gilbert Kiptoo Chepkwony, improved to 2:08:33 in 2010. Thirty-three-year-old Frederick Cherono set his 2:08:38 PB in 2006. Dickson Chumba, the runner-up in Madrid earlier this year who clocked 2:09:20 more recently, is also expected to show.

Ethiopian Siraj Gena Amda braved the weather in the October Beijing Marathon to take the victory there. Weather slowed him in the Chinese capital, but he did lower his personal best to 2:08:39 in March with his victory at the Rome Marathon.

China’s Yan Longfei will join Siraj as the only other runner expected to run on Sunday who finished in the top 10 in October’s Beijing Marathon. Yan finished seventh with a time of 2:17:52 though his PB stands at 2:17:04 from the previous year in China’s capital.

Ethiopian Zembaba Yigeze is also trying his running legs at Xiamen, in what would be his third marathon having established his PB (2:08:27) in Houston in January 2010. Another Ethiopian, Alemayehu Shumye, is coming back to Xiamen after finishing fifth in 2010. His PB still stands at 2:08:46 from the 2009 Frankfurt race.

Another Moroccan, Khalid El Boumlili, PB (2:10:35) will diversify the African contingency with his first appearance in China.

Women’s race - Gigi vs the locals

The women’s course record stands at an impressive 2:22:38 set in 2008 by China’s Zhang Yingying, who was just 18 at the time. The fastest on paper this year is Ethiopia’s Asha Gigi with a 2004 PB of 2:26:05 in Paris. The Xiamen race is a new route for Gigi who has run either the Paris or Dubai Marathons every year since 2003 except last year.

The seaside race tends to attract higher performers among Chinese women than men. Two of the Chinese women finished first and second in Beijing in October, and another finished eighth.

Wang Jiali won October’s Beijing Marathon with 2:29:31, faster than her 2009 Xiamen performance though still about three minutes shy of her 2:26:34 PB from her 2008 Zhengzhou race.

The 2008 Olympian, Chen Rong, returns to the course she won in 2009 with a time of 2:29:52 though her PB still stands at 2:27:05 from 2007 in Beijing. Chen finished second in Beijing in October clocking 2:29:46.

Olesya Nurgalieva is also trying her stamina for the first time in a marathon in China. The Russian, 34, clocked her 2:27:37 career best in Frankfurt in 2008.

Ethiopia’s Alemitu Abera beat her PB by nearly 12 minutes this year in Istanbul with 2:27:56. She is running her first marathon in China.

Another newcomer to Xiamen, Poland’s Karolina Jarzynska, broke her PB (2:29:10) in her last marathon in Frankfurt in 2009.

The oldest of the top women runners is Zimbabwe’s 2008 Olympian Tabitha Tsatsa. The 38-year-old ran in Dublin this year and ended about a minute over her 2008 PB (2:29:20) in Seoul. This is her first Xiamen race. 

Prize money has been increased this year, with the winner’s taking home $40,000. There is a $1 million bonus on offer for a World record.

Runners from about 40 countries are expected on the start line at this Chinese coastal city of 2.5 million. More than 50,000 runners will compete in the 5Km, 10Km races, Half Marathon, and Marathon.

Cyrille Cartier for the IAAF