Reigning champion Meselech Beyene of Ethiopia and her compatriot Fatuma Sado, winner of the 2014 edition, will both return to the Chinese capital aiming to capture another title at the Beijing Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (16).
The 24-year-old Beyene enjoyed a comfortable solo lead in the final 10 kilometres en route to her 2:27:44 victory last year, one minute shy of her personal best set six months earlier in Barcelona.
It will be the third race of the year for Beyene following a third place finish in Houston with a season’s best of 2:27:21 in January and a second place showing at the Vienna City Marathon in 2:29:51 three months later.
Beyene will once again face a deep field in Beijing, as she did here last year, which includes several sub-2:25 runners including the 26-year-old Sado. The Ethiopian achieved her career best of 2:24:16 at the 2015 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, one year after her 2:30:03 victory in Beijing, where she ended a 22-year winning streak by local runners in the women’s race.
Although she failed to dip under the 2:30 the past two years, Sado proved her competitiveness in Xiamen this January as she shrugged off the heavy rain and overcame a stomach problem in the latter stages to win her second title there in 2:26:41.
Beyene and Sado are more familiar with the course that stretches from the landmark Tian’anmen Square and ends outside the National Stadium, better known as the “Birds Nest”, but the top favorite should be Kenya’s Valary Jemeli Aiyabei.
The 27-year-old is the fastest woman on paper with a career best of 2:20:53 from her third finish at the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Prior to that performance in the German capital, the rising Kenyan emerged triumphant in four straight marathons in Eldoret, Barcelona, Valencia and Prague, improving her PB on each occasion.
Her winning marks in Valencia and Prague remains as the course records and she also proved her worth in 2018 with a 2:22:48 clocking in Nagoya where she finish second.
The field also includes two sub-2:22 runners, Mulu Seboka and Amane Gobena, who are both from Ethiopia. Gobena recorded her PB of 2:21:51 in Tokyo two years ago while Seboka set her lifetime best of 2:21:56 in Dubai in 2015. The duo will both arrive in Beijing with high spirits following their newly claimed titles this year in Mumbai and Dalian respectively.
In the men’s race, Tola Dibaba will be the quickest man on the start line thanks to his 2:06:17 PB set in Dubai back in 2012. The 30-year-old also won the Dusseldorf Marathon with a 2:08:27 clocking the same year, but has been witnessing a title drought since then. His most recent appearance was a lacklustre 2:19:43 in January in Marrakesh where he just finished 16th.
His countryman Abayneh Ayele, whose PB of 2:06:45 was set in Dubai two years ago, will be running his third race in China this year. He finished second in 2:14:13 at the Chongqing Marathon in March and went on to take third place in Dongying in 2:13:47.
Kenya’s Paul Kios Kangogo is arguably the most in-form man among the starters. He cut almost five minutes from his career best to finish third at the Roma Marathon in 2:09:20 but his consistency remains to be tested on Sunday.
Ethiopia’s Seboka Negusse is also a serious contender as he clocked a winning time of 2:09:44 at the Hannover Marathon in April. Although the mark is 30 seconds shy of his PB set in Amsterdam back in 2015, it was the second time for him to break the 2:10 barrier.
Ethiopia’s Dejene Debela is another man to watch. He owns a PB of 2:07:10 from his fourth place finish in Eindhoven last year. Debela started the 2018 season with a 2:11:22 victory in Xiamen, the first title of his career over the classic distance. The 38th edition of Beijing Marathon will be his third race this year as he also achieved a seventh place finish at the Roma Marathon in 2:12:01 in April.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF