Bernard Kipyego wins the Amsterdam Marathon (© AFP / Getty Images)
Bernard Kipyego is seeking his second TCS Amsterdam Marathon victory in a row, Wilson Chebet is trying to become ‘Mr Amsterdam’ with a fourth win, and Olympic champion Tiki Gelana wants to prove she is on her way back to the top at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (18).
Records are there to be broken, but that’s not the goal in Amsterdam, race director Cees Pronk said at the pre-race press conference.
“We’re not focusing on one or two athletes hunting for the world record,” he said. “Instead, we hope to have a good group of fast runners who are battling it out for the victory. But of course, if the course record is broken, it will be a nice gift for our jubilee.”
Chebet clocked the course record of 2:05:36 when achieving his third successive victory in 2013. After surrendering his title to Kipyego last year, he now wants it back.
“I started my marathon career here in Amsterdam and I’m very proud that people know me as ‘Mr Amsterdam’ because of my victories,” said Chebet, who finished third in Boston this year. “The course is perfect, the weather is always good and the public is great.”
Last year Chebet was not in good shape in Amsterdam and was unable to finish, but found redemption when winning in Honolulu at the end of the year.
Kipyego went on to win last year in a PB of 2:06:22, finishing almost a minute in front of Lucas Rotich, but he feels he could have gone faster.
“I was a bit cautious and waited too long to take the lead,” said Kipyego, who was beaten by Chebet in Boston earlier this year. “But the training went very well and now it’s time to improve my PB.”
Two-time world marathon champion Abel Kirui is also in the field. The 33-year-old Kenyan is looking to recapture the form that brought him global gold medals in 2009 and 2011 as well as Olympic silver in 2012.
He too was in last year’s race in Amsterdam and finished a disappointing sixth in 2:09:45. But after solid preparation, he is confident of a better performance this weekend and feels he could challenge the course record.
Two-and-a-half years after his stunning 2:04:56 in Dubai and 59:02 half-marathon PB in The Hague, Jonathan Maiyo finished second at last year’s Eindhoven Marathon in 2:06:47. He has focused on the shorter distance this year and has a half-marathon season’s best of 1:00:07.
Despite being one of the youngest athletes in the field, Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Mekonnen is the fastest. The 20-year-old won last year’s Dubai Marathon in 2:04:32, the fastest performance in history by a junior, and went on to finish fifth in London in 2:08:06 a few months later.
Amsterdam will be just the third marathon of his career, but he has raced just once in 2015, clocking 1:01:05 at the RAK Half Marathon back in February.
Fellow Ethiopian Markos Geneti also set his PB in Dubai, clocking 2:04:54 to finish third in 2012. This year he finished seventh in Tokyo in 2:07:25 and third in Warsaw in 2:08:11, but is now said to be in better form and is expected to be among the lead pack that goes through half way in 1:02:45.
Gelana returns to scene of first marathon triumph
In the women’s race, all eyes will be on Olympic champion Tiki Gelana.
Since winning gold in London three years ago, the 27-year-old Ethiopian hasn’t had much luck. In 2013 she collided with a wheelchair athlete at the London Marathon and finished a distant 16th. She failed to finish at the World Championships later that year, withdrawing after 10km.
But there have been glimmers of hope. In 2014 she ran a respectable 2:26:58 to finish ninth at the London marathon. And in February this year she finished third in Tokyo in 2:24:26, her fastest time since winning the Olympic title.
Aside from her Olympic win, Gelana’s two other marathon victories have been on Dutch soil, the first of which came in Amsterdam when she set a then course record of 2:22:08 in 2011. Six months later, she set a national record of 2:18:58 when winning in Rotterdam.
“It has been a difficult time, but my preparations for Amsterdam have been better than they were for Tokyo,” she said at the press conference this week.
“I hope to win here in a time that will qualify me for the Olympic Games in Rio next year where I want to defend my title.”
Her main contenders will be Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech and Joyce Chepkirui.
Commonwealth champion Cheyech finished fifth behind Gelana earlier this year in Tokyo in 2:26:54, more than four minutes outside the PB of 2:22:44 she set when finishing second in Paris last year.
“I had some problems with my ankle last year, but now everything is ok again,” she said ahead of this weekend’s race.
Chepkirui looks to be the underdog. Last year she won African and Commonwealth titles over 10,000m on the track before ending her season with a victory at the Honolulu Marathon.
Although she finished 10th at this year’s Boston Marathon in 2:29:07, she was the only top-10 finisher to set a PB, finishing within a couple of minutes of athletes who have much faster lifetime bests. A recent 10-mile victory of 51:30 at the Dam tot Damloop showed she is in good form.
The race also includes the three fastest Dutch marathon runners of all time: Michel Butter, Khalid Choukoud and Abdi Nageeye. All are aiming to achieve the 2:11 Olympic qualifying standard set by the Dutch federation.
About 16,500 runners from 104 countries will start the marathon in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium on Sunday with a further 18,500 running the half marathon.
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF