Runners in the 2014 Beijing International Marathon (© Getty Images / AFP)
Just three weeks after the end of the IAAF World Championships, world-class athletics returns to the Chinese capital on Sunday (20) in the form of the Beijing International Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
New champions will also be crowned in Beijing as no previous winner is featured among the elite athletes.
This year’s field women’s is led by Aliaksandra Duliba of Belarus. The 27-year-old Duliba set her personal best of 2:23:06 in January, when she finished eighth at the Dubai Marathon.
Ethiopia’s Abebech Afework, who finished one place behind Duliba in Dubai with a personal best of 2:23:33, will also be competing in Beijing. The 24-year-old used to be more of a half marathon specialist but moved up to marathons two years ago.
Kenya’s Helena Kirop is another serious contender to watch out for on Sunday, despite almost reaching veteran status.
The 39-year-old veteran is the winner of 2010 Prague Marathon and 2011 Venice Marathon, where her career best time of 2:23:37 on the hilly course improved the race record by more than three minutes and still stands now.
Her rich and varied experience of running in China will be an advantage for Kirop. She has run three times at the Yellow River Estuary International Marathon in the Chinese city of Dongying, finishing as the runner-up in 2012 and fifth in 2013 before claiming the title this year in 2:31:38.
The women’s field also includes the Ethiopian pair of Betelhem Moges who has a best of 2:24:29, set when finishing 11th in Dubai this year, and Sechale Dalasa, who clocked a PB of 2:26:27 when finishing fifth in Shanghai in 2012 and started this year with a fourth-place finish at the Houston Marathon in 2:27:12.
However, regardless of the quality and depth of the women’s field, challenging the course record of 2:19:39 set in 2003 by China’s four-time winner Sun Yingjie may be too much to ask for.
10 men under 2:10
In the men’s field, four runners have bests faster than the 2:07:16 course record set two years ago by Ethiopia’s 2013 world bronze medallist Tadese Tola but none of them have managed to run faster than 2:10:00 so far this year.
Ethiopia’s Berhanu Shiferaw is the fastest man in the field with a best of 2:04:48, set when he finished second at the 2013 Dubai Marathon, while Kenya’s Mariko Kiplagat Kipchumba was the winner of the 2014 Xiamen Marathon and ran his best time of 2:06:05 in 2012 when winning in Reims, but the fastest time for the 41-year-old in 2015 is just a modest 2:14:38 in Riga.
Twice a winner of the Marrakech Marathon, Stephen Tum has a personal best of 2:06:35 but is even further away from the top level this year, with his 2015 best being 2:15:51.
Ethiopia’s Bekana Daba Tolesa is arguably the most in-form runner on the elite list. Boasting of a best of 2:07:04 when winning the Houston Marathon in 2011, Tolesa clocked 2:09:41 to come home second at the Barcelona Marathon in March.
The field also features six more sub-2:10 runners: Ethiopians Abrha Milaw (2:07:46), who was third in Xiamen this year, Houston Marathon winner Birhanu Gedefa (2:08:03), Dereje Tadesse Raya (2:08:46) and Chala Adugna (2:09:42), as well as Ugandan duo Daniel Kipkorir Chepyegon (2:08:04) and Jackson Kiprop (2:09:32), the latter finishing 10th at the World Championships last month.
The Beijing Marathon will see a series of reforms this year with the date of the race being moved forward from October to September and the starting hour changed to 7:30am local time to hopefully avoid hot temperatures.
The organisers have also made some adjustments to the route in order to make the course flatter, with the starting line still being in the famous Tiananmen Square and the finish just outside the Bird’s Nest stadium.
About 30,000 runners will participate in Sunday’s race. The organisers have omitted the half marathon and 10km races this year, and all the participants will be competing in the full-length race.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF