A couple of months ago, as marathoners in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games marathons battled sweltering conditions, Yuki Kawauchi ran to his first World Marathon Majors victory in Boston in wet, windy and freezing conditions.
This Sunday (1 July), Kawauchi is likely to face the rain again as he competes in the 40th edition of the Gold Coast marathon, an IAAF Gold Label event. But where runners experienced biting winds and slippery roads in Boston, mild and relatively still weather is forecast for race morning. It will be warm – with the temperature tipped to rise to just over 20C – but nothing like as hot as the Commonwealth marathoners experienced.
Kawauchi will be competing in his seventh straight Gold Coast marathon and chasing his second victory. His only win came in 2013, but he has three more podium finishes and has never finished outside the top eight.
Kawauchi will need to be on his A-game, however, as two other recent winners are in this year’s line-up – last year’s victor, Takuya Noguchi and race record holder and two-time winner Kenneth Mungara. Actually, there are at least five former winners starting in this 40th edition of the race – Eric Sigmont, winner of the inaugural race in 1979, and 1990 Commonwealth Games 5000 metres champion Andrew Lloyd, who won in 1980, are also in the field.
The women’s Gold Coast race offers the possibility of a home victory with two of Australia’s best distance performers at the Gold Coast Games among the chances. Jess Trengove was bronze medallist in the marathon and Celia Sullohern challenged for the medals in the 5000 and 10,000 metres. It probably reflects a pleasing internationalisation of the race, but no Australian has won since Lauren Shelley took the women’s race in 2009 and no male Australian since Lee Troop in 2006.
Trengove has a best time of 2:27:01 in London last year and followed that up with ninth place in the London 2017 world championships. Sullohern finished sixth in last year’s Gold Coast race, slashing 20 minutes off her only previous performance, and then ran 2:29:27 to win the Melbourne marathon last November.
Abebech Afework, who set a race record 2:25:34 last year, is not back to defend her title. Fastest woman in the field is Agnes Barsosio (also known as Agnes Jeruto Kiprotich) with a 2:20:59 in Paris last year. Her recent form is solid, albeit less impressive, with a 1:11:00 half-marathon in Gothenburg in May. Ruth Jebitok, with a 2:25:49 from Barcelona this year, may stand a better chance of registering the first Kenyan women’s victory on the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast race has been supported by many top Japanese runners over its history. The prodigious Kawauchi may be the highest-profile Japanese runner, but it is the women who have notched more race victories. Afework’s win in 2017 broke a run of five consecutive Japanese wins. Fastest Japanese entrant this year is Ayaka Fuijimoto (2:27:08 in Tokyo last year), followed by Miharu Shimokado (2:27:54 in Nagoya last year) and Mae Uesugi (2:31:49 in this year’s Tokyo race).
Turning to the men’s race, the 44-year-old Mungara may feel the Gold Coast owes him a change of luck. He won in 2015 and 2016, the former in the race record and world 40-plus record of 2:08:42, and was thwarted in his bid for a hat-trick when Noguchi beat him narrowly last year in 2:08:59. Helped, no doubt, by his Gold Coast experience, he was selected for Kenya’s Commonwealth Games team but was one of those who wilted in the heat, finishing 10th in 2:25:42. His only other marathon for this year was a 2:13 in Hong Kong in January.
Fastest man on paper is Philip Sanga Kimutai, whose best of 2:06:07 dates back to 2011. He ran under 2:07 in each of the following two years and, while not as fast since, has run 2:10:07 or faster in three of the past four years. If time is passing him by, it is in no hurry.
Douglas Chebii and Michael Githae also will bear close watching. Chebii ran 2:08:43 earlier this year in Seville and Githae 2:09:21 in Lake Biwa. At 24 and 23, respectively, both are approaching their prime racing years.
Both the marathon and associated half-marathon are Oceania area championship races.
Trengove and Sullohern stand out as the top two contenders for the women’s marathon title with a big edge on times over any other entrant. The men’s race is a lot more open. Last year’s winner, Dave Ridley of New Zealand, is defending his title, but fastest Oceania man in the field is 40-year-old David Criniti of Australia (2:17:57), followed by London 2017 representative Jack Colreavy (2:18:32).
Collis Birmingham, Liam Adams and Dejen Gebreselassie should fight out the men’s half-marathon championship, though Jack Rayner is capable of a fast time based on his performances at shorter road distances.
Last year’s winner, Sara Hall, is back. As an American, Hall is not eligible for the Oceania title, nor is the other sub-1:10 entrant, Japan’s Hanae Tanaka. Laura Thweatt of the US, Sinead Diver and Ellie Pashley are next fastest, with the latter pair looking to have the Oceania title between them,
Len Johnson for the IAAF