Edna Kiplagat winning in a course record at the 2014 Great Scottish Run (© organisers)
World and Olympic champions at all distances ranging from 1500m to the marathon will be meeting over 10km for the Morrisons Great Manchester Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (10).
The elite field is headed by Haile Gebrselassie, who is making his season’s debut in a race which he has won five times in the past. However, age appears to be catching up with one of the all-time long distance-running greats who set his first world record back in 1994.
In his most recent competitive outing, Gebrselassie finished third in a 10km race held alongside the Singapore Marathon in December. His time of 30:00 was almost three minutes slower than his lifetime best, but he described the humidity as the worst he’s ever raced in.
A sixth victory might be beyond Gebrselassie’s capabilities but the 41-year-old, who said he’s in 29-30-minute shape, is still a huge fan favourite in Manchester. After finishing the elite race, Gebrselassie will run the course for a second time with the masses.
“It will be a unique experience for me and I look forward to meeting some of those who have cheered me on before,” he said.
Another former world marathon record-holder, Wilson Kipsang, is also lining up on Sunday. By contrast, Kipsang is in prime form at the age of 33 but can he challenge for victory so soon after finishing second at the London Marathon in 2:04:47?
Kipsang, the runner-up in 2013 and 2014, is only the fourth fastest in the line-up with a 27:42 lifetime best but that mark was set en route to a 58:59 half marathon six years ago.
While Gebrselassie and Kipsang have only met twice in the past, Gebrselassie and Bernard Lagat’s racing paths will cross for just the second time on Sunday.
Lagat will be making his 10km debut on Sunday and while the distance might be towards the upper reaches of his repertoire, he is aiming to attack Gebrselassie’s world over-40 best of 28:00 set in this race two years ago.
“It is not going to be easy. It is like running two 14-minute 5km races back-to-back. That is something fast, but I will give it my best shot,” said Lagat.
“The only time I remember running 10km was in cross country at university level, so the time that I run is going to be a personal best.”
The mantle of pre-race favourite might lie with Lagat’s training partner Stephen Sambu, who has been arguably the most dominant performer on the US road-racing circuit in recent times. Sambu set a world lead for 10km of 27:25 last year, and he also cracked the 27-minute mark for the distance on the track.
Sambu also ended Leonard Komon’s three-year-plus unbeaten run at the distance in New York last May, and the world record-holder at 26:44 is also in this loaded line-up.
Komon, who has won 10 of his 13 races over 10km, only finished fourth at the Great Dublin Run last month but the Kenyan should find the fast and flat course in Manchester more to his liking.
Last year’s third-place finisher Stephen Mokoka from South Africa is also in the field along with up-and-coming Ethiopian Tesfaalem Mehari.
Saina aims to upstage marathon stars
The women’s race certainly doesn’t lack star power either although Meseret Defar, who was due to make her competitive return from maternity leave, is a late withdrawal due to illness.
Like Sambu, Betsy Saina from Kenya has largely plied her trade on the roads of the USA but the 26-year-old capped off her European tour last September with a 30:46 lifetime best to win the Tilburg 10km, which remained the world’s best mark in 2014.
That mark also makes Saina the fastest in the field by more than half a minute.
But two global champions will line up alongside Saina: Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana and the two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat.
Gelana has been riddled by injuries since winning the Olympic title three years ago and while 10km might not be her favoured distance, a third-place finish at the Tokyo Marathon in 2:24:26 shows she is getting back to her 2012 form.
By contrast, Kiplagat is the second fastest in the field with a 31:18 PB but her legs might be slightly tired from the London Marathon where she finished 11th a fortnight ago in 2:27:16.
The leading British duo of European cross-country champion Gemma Steel and European 10,000m champion Jo Pavey will certainly be in contention for a podium finish. Steel finished second to Tirunesh Dibaba last year while Pavey, who is racing competitively for the first time since September, won this race in 2007 and 2008.
Other leading elite contenders include former Boston Marathon winner Caroline Kilel from Kenya, former two-time New York Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka from Latvia, US-based Burundian Diane Nukuri, and former European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton from Ireland.
Steven Mills for the IAAF