Defending champion Meseret Mengistu and 2013 winner Fatuma Sado of Ethiopia will both chasing a second title at the 16th edition of the Xiamen International Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (7).
The 27-year-old Mengistu is the fastest woman on paper with a personal best of 2:23:25 achieved when she won the 2015 Paris Marathon. She has won four out of the five marathon races she completed since 2014, including victories in Cape Town in 2014 and in Beijing in 2016.
Last year, she pulled away from 2016 winner Workenesh Edesa to seize the sole lead near the 35-kilometre water station, and led the rest of the way to wrap up the win in 2:25:58, more than six minutes shy of the 2:19:52 course record set in 2015 by Mare Dibaba, who went on to win the world title later that year.
The vastly experienced Ethiopian also competed at the Vienna City Marathon last April but had to withdraw halfway with a foot problem.
Mengistu’s compatriot Sado, 26, scored her 2:27:35 win in the Chinese coastal city in 2013. Her title collection also includes top honours in Hamburg in 2011, Los Angeles in 2012, Beijing in 2014 and Warsaw in 2015.
Sado has run seven sub-2:30 races in her career. But after setting her PB of 2:24:16 to finish third at the 2015 Toronto Marathon, she hasn’t run faster than 2:30 since. Her most recent performance is a fourth-place finish in Toronto last October in 2:32:07.
The start list also include Ethiopia’s Muluhabt Tsega, who improved her PB to 2:28:08 to set the course record at Hangzhou Marathon last year.
Tigist Memuye, another Ethiopian to watch, also improved her PB last year when winning the Zheng-Kai Marathon in 2:27:39.
A quality field in the men’s race will be chasing Moses Mosop’s course record. The Kenyan set his winning mark of 2:06:19 in 2015, which also stands as the Chinese all-comers’ record. Only two entrants toeing the line on Sunday, namely Ayele Abshero and Deribe Robi, have ever run faster than Mosop’s course record.
Ethiopia’s Abshero, who celebrated his 27th birthday last week, won the Dubai Marathon in 2:04:23 on his debut at the distance back in 2012. It was the fastest marathon debut at the time and was also the course record that was only renewed by countryman Tamirat Tola last year.
The 2012 Olympian also finished third and fourth respectively in London in 2013 and 2014 but has been struggling to find his best shape in recent seasons. His best performance last year was a fourth-place finish in Gyeongju, South Korea, and the 2:08:37 clocking was the fastest time for him in three years.
The 27-year-old Robi, also from Ethiopia, is the second-fastest runner on the start list with a personal best of 2:05:58 from his runner-up finish in Eindhoven three years ago. He also clocked 2:06:06 in Dubai that same year.
More recently, Robi proved his competiveness by finishing third at the Valencia Marathon two months ago in 2:06:38, the third best of his career.
However, tiredness could be his biggest opponent on Sunday as he will be running his third marathon in four months following races in Valencia last November and in Beijing last September.
Ethiopia’s Dejene Debela will be another serious contender for the win although it will only be the fourth marathon race for the 21-year-old. He clocked 2:07:10 to finish fourth in Eindhoven last year, taking three minutes from the PB that he achieved from his marathon debut in the same race in 2016.
The field also include three other sub-2:08 runners, all from Kenya, including 34-year-old veteran Elijah Kemboi, who has a PB of 2:07:34 and clocked 2:09:58 last year in Valencia, Cheshari Kirui with a PB of 2:07:46, and Elias Kemboi Chelimo, whose career best of 2:07:04 was set back in 2010.