The lure of the original marathon course leading from Marathon to the Panathenaikon Stadium in Athens weaves its spell not only on mass runners but the elite as well.
Despite the tough course which makes setting personal bests a tough task, the organisers of the Athens Authentic Marathon confirmed that both defending champions will return to the race on 9 November, the Kenyans Hillary Yego and Nancy Joan Rotich.
Yego caused a surprise last year, when the unknown marathon Kenyan won in 2:13:55. Since then the 27-year-old has improved his personal best to 2:11:54 when he was sixth in the Marrakech Marathon in January. Athens will be his fourth marathon of the year.
Another runner who clearly loves racing on the authentic course is Raymond Bett. The Kenyan will be running the event for the fourth time, having won twice, breaking the event record on both occasions. Four years ago Bett ran 2:12:40, and then improved the time to 2:11:35 in 2012.
The Kenyan returned last year and intended to the attack the course record of 2:10:55, set by Italy’s Stefano Baldini when winning the Olympic title in 2004. But Bett suffered stomach problems and dropped out after 25km.
The 30-year-old will be eager to make up for that disappointment as he chases another triumph, looking to become just the second three-time winner in the event’s history.
“Athens is the origin of marathon running and the Olympic Games started here,” said Bett. “This is why I like Athens and come back to the race again and again. It is a legendary marathon.”
There are two more Kenyans returning to the Greek capital, having joined Yego on the podium last year: 2013 runner-up Dickson Cheruiyot and third-place finisher David Rutoh.
John Kelai, the 2010 Commonwealth champion, is also in the race. He has a best of 2:09:09 and if he can reproduce that kind of form, he should be a definite contender.
Last year’s women’s champion also has a strong sense of history for the marathon.
“It was a great feeling to finish inside the old Olympic Stadium,” said Nancy Joan Rotich after crossing the finish line 12 months ago in 2:41:32. “The Athens Marathon is special, so I am very proud to have won this historic race.”
The 26-year-old Kenyan hopes to repeat that experience on her return to Athens. Among her rivals there will be Russia’s Kamila Shamsutdinova, who has a personal best of 2:35:31, and Yumiko Kinoshita. The Japanese was fifth in this year’s Nagano Marathon with a personal best of 2:39:38.
A record number of 13,000 runners are expected to take part on 9 November, with an additional 22,000 set to take part in shorter races staged in Athens the same day.
Organisers for the IAAF