When David Kiyeng lined up for last year’s Kosice Peace Marathon, few thought the then 33-year-old Kenyan had a chance of victory at the IAAF Bronze Label road race.
He arrived in the Slovakian city off the back of three marathons in the 2:14-2:16 range, almost 10 minutes slower than his seven-year-old PB.
Kiyeng, however, surprised all of his rivals by taking victory in 2:08:58 and he’ll return to Kosice on Sunday (1) in a bid to retain his title.
Founded in 1924, the race in Kosice is Europe’s oldest marathon, but across all of the past 93 editions, just five men have managed to secure back-to-back wins. The last man to achieve the feat was another ‘David K’ from Kenya: 2001 and 2002 winner David Kariuki.
A former winner in Reims, Seoul and Daegu, Kiyeng has considerable experience over the classic distance. He has already contested two marathons this year – 2:13:29 for seventh in Hong Kong and 2:13:16 for fifth in Ottawa – both of which show more promise than his pre-race form heading into last year’s race.
He will face tough opposition from a handful of his compatriots, though.
Gilbert Masai may be one of the oldest in the elite field, but the 36-year-old is a relative newcomer to the marathon. Since setting a PB of 2:09:49 in 2015, he went on to clock a half-marathon PB of 59:31 in Copenhagen last year and won this year’s Berlin Half Marathon in 59:57. He was on course for a sub-2:07 finishing time in Hamburg earlier this year, but he withdrew with just two kilometres to go. If he is able to go the distance on Sunday, he could even challenge the course record of 2:07:01.
With a best of 2:08:28 set two years ago, Richard Sigei is one of the fastest in the field. Having finished in the top five in all but one of his marathons to date, he will be keen to achieve the first victory of his career at the distance.
Fellow Kenyan Raymond Kipchumba Choge won the Cologne Marathon last year in what was just his second ever race over 26.2 miles. He will be keen to atone for a disappointing performance in Prague earlier this year when he ran in the lead pack for the first 25 kilometres and looked to be on course for a 2:08 finish before dropping back in the latter stages, eventually finishing 10th in 2:16:03.
Reuben Kerio has even less experience than Choge, but appears to have similar potential. He won in Brescia on his marathon debut last year in 2:09:05, and then finished second in Lisbon seven months later. Earlier this year he won the Verbania Half Marathon in 1:01:21.
Henry Chirchir has proven himself to be a consistent performer over the past five years. The 2011 African cross-country bronze medallist has a best of 2:09:24 and finished fifth in Kosice last year, so will be familiar with the course. The former Nagano and Hannover winner will also be fired up by missing out on the podium by just 15 seconds in his most recent marathon when he finished fourth in Milan in 2:10:20.
Eliud Barngetuny finished one place and three seconds behind Chirchir in Milan, clocking his second PB of the year. The 30-year-old Kenyan will be aiming for a third consecutive PB on Sunday.
Kenyan athletes have won 11 of the past 12 editions of the men’s race and that trend could well continue on Sunday, but there are also strong contenders from other countries.
Little was known of Tadesse Mamo when he finished third in Kosice last year in 2:10:17. Not much more has been learned about the Ethiopian since then as he hasn’t competed during that time, but he will return to Kosice on Sunday in a bid to improve on his performance from last year.
He will be joined by compatriots Fikre Assefa and Solomon Lema, who have respective PBs of 2:10:01 and 2:12:17. Eritrea’s Samson Gebreyohannes, the eighth-place finisher at the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships, will be contesting his third marathon as he continues to try to get to grips with the full distance.
The women’s race looks set to be just as competitive as several athletes not only appear to have a strong chance of winning but also look capable of challenging the course record of 2:27:44.
Kenya’s Janet Rono has run faster than that mark on three occasions during her career. Her lifetime best, 2:26:03, was set at the 2014 Tokyo Marathon, while her fastest time this year is a 2:29:04 clocking from Seoul. A former winner in Hong Kong and Cologne, Rono’s last podium finish came when she won the 2014 Ljubljana Marathon.
A host of comparatively inexperienced but promising runners look set to challenge Rono on Sunday.
Kenya’s Sheila Jerotich only started competing internationally last year, but on her marathon debut six months ago, she finished third in Chongqing in 2:28:53. An improvement of little more than a minute – which doesn’t seem unreasonable, given her rate of progress – would be enough to break the course record in Kosice.
Compatriot and namesake Sheila Chepkoech only has slightly more experience than Jerotich, having contested three marathons to date. Her latest was a victory in Milan where she took more than 10 minutes off her PB with 2:29:52 to beat, among others, last year’s Kosice winner Chaltu Waka of Ethiopia.
Waka won’t be defending her title in Kosice, but there’s still a chance of a third consecutive Ethiopian victory.
Meseret Alemu made a breakthrough at this year’s Barcelona Marathon, finishing fourth in a PB of 2:29:14. Compatriot Worknesh Alemu has also been in PB form this year, having won the Rabat Marathon in 2:30:04.
Others in the field include veteran Emily Samoei and fellow Kenyan Hellen Chepkorir.
Forecasts suggest the temperature will be about 8C at the start of the race, rising to about 12C by the finish with sunny skies and minimal breeze.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF