Ethiopian distance runner Meselech Melkamu (© Getty Images)
If Girmay Birhanu and Meselech Melkamu live up to their status as favourites at the Daegu International Marathon on Sunday (5), it will be the third time that Ethiopians have won both races at the IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
Last year, at the sixth edition of the marathon, Ethiopian duo Yemane Tsegay and Mulu Seboka won both races, Tsegay setting a course record of 2:06:51.
Although neither of the 2014 champions will defend their titles in the Korean city, Birhanu and Melkamu will hope to uphold their country’s honour on Sunday when heavy rain is forecast during the race.
Birhanu is the fastest in the men’s field. He set his PB of 2:05:49 when finishing third in Dubai last year. In 2013 he finished second in Amsterdam, Rome and Prague, running faster than 2:10 on each occasion.
More recently, he won the Beijing Marathon last October and finished eighth in Dubai in January with a season’s best of 2:08:56.
His toughest opponent looks set to be Kenya’s Commonwealth silver medallist Stephen Chemlany. The 32-year-old enjoys running in Korea, having finished second in Seoul last year with a PB of 2:06:24.
Chemlany has faced Birhanu once before, at the 2013 Rome Marathon. Birhanu finished second there, one place and 19 seconds ahead of Chemlany.
The one advantage Rachid Kisri will have over the field is that he has raced in Daegu before. The 40-year-old represented Morocco in the marathon at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in the same city, finishing 11th; his best performance from his five global championships appearances.
Although Kisri’s PB of 2:06:48 dates back to 2009, he ran 2:10:54 and 2:10:57 last year in Ottawa and Xiamen respectively.
At 20 years old, Belay Kassaw is exactly half Kisri’s age. The Ethiopian set his PB of 2:08:18 in Dubai last year, finishing eighth. Later in the year, he made it on to the podium in Melbourne, running 2:12:34.
Uganda’s Phillip Kiplimo is more at home on hills, having won the 2013 world mountain-running title, but he is an accomplished road runner too. He finished six places behind Chemlany at last year’s Commonwealth Games. His highest finish in a marathon came on Asian soil, finishing second in Hofu last year.
Kiplimo isn’t the only global champion in the field. 2005 world half-marathon champion Fabiano Joseph Naasi of Tanzania has completed just two marathons to date. His most recent one was at last year’s Commonwealth Games, where he finished 11th, behind Chemlany and Kiplimo.
Melkamu seeking second marathon win
Since running 2:21:01 on her debut at the distance to win in Frankfurt three years ago, Meselech Melkamu is yet to win another race over the classic distance.
The 29-year-old is the most decorated athlete in the field. On the track, she won the 2004 world junior 5000m title, the 2009 world 10,000m silver medal and the 2008 African 5000m title. She is also a five-time world cross-country bronze medallist.
Melkamu, who last year finished second in Dubai and fifth in Boston, has competed in Daegu before, albeit on the track; she finished fifth in the 10,000m at the 2011 World Championships.
Sultan Haydar heads to Daegu in the form of her life. She started the year with a half-marathon PB of 1:09:49, and then broke her own Turkish marathon record with 2:24:44 in Dubai. It was her second appearance in Dubai, having finished 10th in the race last year, eight places behind Melkamu.
Melkamu’s fellow Ethiopian Dinkinesh Mekasha is also in the field. Already this year she has successfully defended her Mumbai Marathon title. A consistent performer with three sub-2:30 marathons last year, the 30-year-old set her PB of 2:25:09 when finishing fourth in Paris in 2013.
Judith Toribio finished third in Daegu last year, setting a PB of 2:29:51. It was the 33-year-old’s second appearance in the Korean city, having represented Peru at the 2011 World Championships.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF