Francis Kiprop of Kenya crosses the line in first place (Organisers) © Copyright
Preview Beijing, China

Difficult task awaits defending champions Kiprop and Wei in Beijing

23 November 2012 – Sunday’s 32nd Beijing International Marathon will be a historic one because it’s held in late November. Moved from its usual place in mid-October, this IAAF Gold Label Road Race has never been held this late.

Both of last year’s winners return to Beijing to defend their titles. It is quite clear that a Chinese athlete will not make the home crowd happy with a win as there are no real elite male Marathon runners in China at this moment. The last Chinese winners were crowned in 2002 and 2001 with Li Zhuhong and Gong Ke winners then. Kenya has grabbed seven out of eight previous titles with Siraj Gena of Ethiopia winner in 2010. In the women’s side China has won 20 straight 1992-2011 with the previous foreign winner being Deborah Noy of Great Britain in 1991.

30-year-old Kenyan Francis Kiprop grabbed his first marathon win last year finishing in 2:09:00, but will not be the number one favourite this season. Kiprop, who has run his personal best 2:07:04 for second place in Berlin 2009, will face tough competition from 23-year-old compatriot Eliud Kiptanui, who was third in Seoul in March in 2:06:44 and has the best personal best in the field with a 2:05:39 win in Prague 2010. Young Kiptanui has run only six career marathons, but with incredibly good numbers. Five sub-2:10 clockings with the only exception coming in the slow Daegu World Championships Marathon in 2011 where he finished in sixth place.

Another runner with a fast time is 28-year-old Ethiopian Tariku Jifar, who clocked a personal best 2:06:51 for the Houston Marathon win in January 2012. Jifar also has a 2:09:19 from Paris in April and has stepped up nicely this season to double his sub-2:10 times with the previous ones coming in 2008 and 2009. 26-year-old Kenyan Samuel Muturi, who finished second last year, returns to Beijing to open his 2012 campaign. Muturi, who has clocked the two fastest times of his career in China, won the 2009 Beijing International Marathon in a 2:08:20 personal best, but has not raced since Beijing 2011, when he was second in 2:09:43.

The second fastest of the field in 2012 is 34-year-old Kenyan Francis Kibiwott has also run two sub-2:10 marathons this season with an impressive 2:07:32 for second place in Tiberias in January and a 2:09:05 win in Nagano in April. Kenyans Robert Kwambai and Michael Tiony have also clocked times under 2:10 this season. Kwambai won in Padova in a 2:09:14 personal best and Tiony set a personal best 2:09:45 in Xiamen, China, in January.

Women’s race

In the women’s race the favourites come from the host country. Last year’s surprise winner Wei Xiaojie, who turned 23 earlier this week, has won four of her last five marathons. The athlete coming from the prestigious Liaoning province clocked her personal best 2:26:41 with a win in Zhengzhou in March 2011 before winning in Beijing in 2:28:05. This season she has already won two out of three marathons with wins in 2:29:46 season’s best in Dalian and 2:30:04 in Yingkou.

But like in the men’s race, last year’s winner can’t be considered the first choice for the win in 2012. Two Chinese runners are well above Wei’s standard including this year’s national champion Wang Jiali. The 26-year-old did not succeed in London finishing 58th, but set a personal best in Chongqing in March winning the National Championships and Olympic Trials in a 2:22:41 personal best for her second straight national title. Wang also placed eighth in the Daegu World Championships Marathon in 2011 and won the Beijing International Marathon in 2010. 34-year-old Zhou Chunxiu clocked her best time since 2007 with a second place finish in Chongqing behind Wang Jiali in 2:23:42. Zhou is the most decorated Chinese Marathon runner with a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships and a bronze at the Olympics in Beijing 2008.

Other big Chinese names in the race are Chen Rong and Wei Yanan, both former Beijing winners. 24-year-old Chen grabbed the win in 2007 with second places finishes in 2008 and 2010. 30-year-old Wei was the winner back in 2000 at just 18. Wei’s personal best is 2:23:12 from 2007 with Chen reaching her career best 2:26:49 in 2011. There are only a handful of notable foreign runners in the women’s race. 31-year-old Karolina Jarzynska of Poland ran her only 2012 Marathon at the Olympics finishing 36th, well ahead of one the favourites here (Wang Jiali) and has a personal best 2:27:16 from 2011. Kenyan Lydia Rutto has already run three marathons in 2012 including a 2:31:57 personal best in Vienna in April.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF