Defending champion Tsehay Desalegn of Ethiopia will return to the Chinese city of Lanzhou, aiming to retain her title at the Lanzhou Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (11).
One year ago, the 25-year-old Desalegn rallied to surpass countrywoman Azalech Masresha at the 42km mark to score an upset victory in 2:32:16, which was the third fastest time of her career, 51 seconds shy of her personal best of 2:31:25 set at the 2014 Prague Marathon where she finished fourth.
This time Desalegn will again face a deep field that contains 10 sub-2:30 runners as the organisers are targeting the course record of 2:31:22, set by Kenya’s Nguriatukei Rael Kiyara two years ago. Desalegn, who was ninth at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, is ready to improve on her 2:34:44 run achieved at Hong Kong Marathon in February and battle for the first back-to-back victory at this event since its launch in 2011.
Kenya’s Lydia Cheromei is the fastest woman in the field with a PB of 2:21:30 when finishing sixth in Dubai in 2012. The seasoned veteran, who will turn 40 next month, began her career more than two decades ago. She won the junior event at the 1991 IAAF World Cross Country Championships at age 16 and finished second at 2004 World Half Marathon Championships, but has been off the radar since achieving a season best of 2:34:26 in 2013.
Ashete Bekere is another strong Ethiopian with a career best of 2:23:43 set in the 2015 Dubai Marathon. The 29-year-old has remained consistent in recent years. She finished seventh at last year’s Tokyo Marathon in 2:25:50 and opened 2017 with a second place finish in Seoul in 2:25:57.
The Ethiopian-born Bahraini Merima Mohammed is also a serious contender with a PB of 2:23:06 set in 2010. However, she has not run faster than 2:30 since 2013 with her best performance last season being a second finish in Sydney in 2:39:02.
The field also includes former Xiamen and Beijing marathon winner Fatuma Sado of Ethiopia, who has a PB of 2:24:16, and her consistent countrywoman Melkam Gizaw, who has registered sub-2:30 results each year since debuting over the distance in 2010.
Kwambai the star attraction in men’s contest
The men’s course record of 2:10:10 set by Ethiopian Abayneh Ayele in 2015 is also under serious threat by a field that includes 14 sub-2:10 runners.
Three-time Seoul Marathon champion and former Kenyan record-holder James Kwambai turns out to be the star attraction. Although his best of 2:04:27 was set seven years ago in Rotterdam, he’s remained competitive.
The 34-year-old finished fourth in 2:09:22 at 2015 Seoul Marathon and clocked a winning mark of 2:10:46 in Daegu last year. He competed in Daegu again two month ago but had to drop out after half way. He’ll be eager to bounce back from that unpleasant memory.
Ethiopia’s Kelkile Gezahegn Woldaregay is another man to watch. The 20-year-old won in Chongqing in 2:10:54 last year and set the course record of 2:08:54 at the 2016 Heifei Marathon. He went on to improve his PB to 2:07:29 with his solid sixth finish in Rotterdam last month.
Kenya’s Ernest Kiprono Ngeno is also on the rise. After victories in China’s Hengshui and Dongying two years ago, the 22-year-old won his third marathon in Milan last year and also improved his PB to 2:07:49 in Gyeongju last October.
Although not as fast as some of the entrants in the field, Ethiopia’s Afewerk Mesfin is looking to spring another surprise as he did in Chongqing three month ago, where his winning mark equaled his 2:09:49 PB set on his marathon debut at the 2013 Dubai Marathon.
Also toeing the line will be Kenya’s Julius Kipkorir Tuwei, who trailed three seconds behind Mesfin as the runner-up in Chongqing and cut more than five minutes off his PB set when winning the 2016 Danzhou Marathon in China’s Hainan Island.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF