More than 19,000 runners from 123 countries have entered the 2014 ACEA Rome Marathon on Sunday 23 March, making the 20th edition of the IAAF Gold Label Race the biggest one yet.
The local attention will be on Italy’s Emma Quaglia, who finished sixth in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in a race where her friend Valeria Straneo won the silver medal.
The 33-year-old medicine graduate from Genova is a former steeplechase specialist, having won three national titles in the event and setting an Italian record over this distance in 2002.
Quaglia, who has contested four marathons to date, finished third on her marathon debut in Hannover in 2011 in 2:33:23, and then improved to 2:28:15 in Turin in 2012.
She will be looking to become the first Italian runner to win the Rome Marathon since Ornella Ferrara triumphed in 2004. The last Italian runner to reach the podium was Tiziana Alagia who finished runner-up in 2005.
Quaglia’s will face 36-year-old Olena Shurkhno, who set a Ukrainian record of 2:23:32 when finishing third in Berlin two years ago.
But the arguable pre-race favourite is Russia’s Albina Mayorova, who has a best of 2:23:52 and won the Yokohama Marathon four months ago. The 36-year-old also finished ninth in the 2012 Olympic marathon and finished sixth in Tokyo last month in 2:28:18.
Also in the field are Ethiopia’s Ayelu Lemma, who has a career best of 2:32:10, and Morocco’s 2:34:20 performer Hanane Janat.
Close men’s race expected
If the women’s field looks evenly matched, the men’s race is even tougher to call.
The fastest man in the field is 31-year-old Sisay Jisa from Ethiopia, who clocked 2:06:27 in Paris in 2012, but he was several minutes slower in his most recent marathon, clocking 2:11:25 when winning the Guangzhou Marathon four months ago.
Jisa leads a large Ethiopian contingent which includes Shume Hailu, who ran 2:09:06 in Cannes but hasn’t raced a marathon since his 2:10:01 eight-place finish in Frankfurt in 2012, and Beyene Seboka Effa, who has a best of 2:12:57.
There are also two Ethiopians who will be making their debut over the distance: Solomon Deksisa, who has a half-marathon best of 1:02:16, and Beyene Demeke Mosisa.
But Jisa’s strongest challenge is likely to come from outside of his home country. Jackson Kotut is the fastest Kenyan in the field, setting his best of 2:07:30 at the 2010 Barcelona Marathon. However, the 26-year-old hasn’t run faster than 2:10 for the marathon for more than three years and his most recent performance was a 2:18:43 clocking in Cologne.
But there are two other Kenyans who will be making their marathon debut and who could spring a surprise. Leonard Langat’s 59:52 clocking at the 2011 RAK Half Marathon makes him the fastest in the field over that distance. Weldon Kiprono Korir, a 1:02:42 half-marathon runner, is the other Kenyan debutant.
Also look out for Ukraine’s Oleksander Sitkovskiy, who ran the second-fastest marathon time by a European in 2013, clocking 2:09:14 in Florence last November.
Domenico Ricatti, who finished 12th in Berlin in 2011 and clocked his personal best of 2:15:16 on a rainy day in Padua last year, will carry the Italian hopes.
The Rome Marathon boasts the Italian all-comers records for both men and women. They were set by Benjamin Kiptoo in 2009 with 2:07:17 and Galina Bogomolova in 2008 with 2:22:53; both impressive times on a difficult hilly course with many cobblestones.
The course has undergone some changes compared to the past editions. The start and finish-line will be located in the Via dei Fori Imperiali, about 300 metres further than in the previous editions at the Foro Traiano near the Campidoglio.
The traditional non-competitive 5km Rome Fun Run will be staged alongside the marathon where more than 80,000 participating runners are expected to take to the street.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF