Mike Kiprotich Mutai wins at the 2016 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon (Organisers) © Copyright
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Defending champions set to be challenged at Hong Kong Marathon

The winners of last year’s Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon will have their work cut out when they try to retain their titles at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (12).

Mike Mutai was a surprise winner of the men’s race last year. Aged 33 at the time and competing in monsoon-like conditions, the Kenyan still managed to come within a minute of the course record, crossing the line in 2:12:12.

With conditions for this year’s race set to be near perfect for distance running, Mutai is targeting the course record of 2:11:27. Ideally, he says, he would also like to improve on his PB of 2:09:18 which he set at the 2012 Dubai Marathon.

Feyera Gemeda, the 2014 winner, will also be returning to Hong Kong. When the Ethiopian won three years ago, he had entered the open race and had paid his way to be there. His gamble paid off and he was rewarded with the US$65,000 first prize. The 35-year-old finished third in Hong Kong last year and then went on to improve his PB to 2:09:42.

But there are six other men in the field with faster PBs than the two former winners.

Markos Geneti is the fastest man in the field. The former track specialist won the 2001 world U18 3000m title, the 2002 world U20 5000m silver and the 2004 world indoor 3000m bronze before moving to the roads. After a 2:06:35 marathon debut in Los Angeles in 2011, he improved to 2:04:54 in Dubai in 2012. He raced sparingly last year, but was sixth at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon in 2:07:25.

Commonwealth silver medallist Stephen Chemlany has a best of 2:06:24 and finished third at last year’s Paris Marathon in 2:07:37.

Last year David Kiyeng added Kosice to his long list of marathon victories. The 2:06:26 performer has a good record on Asian soil too, having won in Seoul, Daegu and Chuncheon.

Other athletes in the field with PBs faster than 2:09 include Kenyan trio Francis Kiprop, Emmanuel Keter and John Cheruiyot. Meanwhile, Moses Masai might not be the fastest in the field, but the 2009 world 10,000m bronze medallist says he is in form to improve on his PB of 2:10:36. Such a performance would, in theory, see him improve the course record – provided Mutai or someone else doesn’t beat him to it.

Haylay targets repeat win

Like Mutai, last year’s women’s winner Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea will return to defend her title.

The Ethiopian ran 2:36:51 in tough conditions 12 months ago but went on to win the Rotterdam Marathon in 2:26:15, just 51 seconds shy of her 2:25:24 PB from the 2015 Prague Marathon. If she lines up for this weekend’s race in similar form, the course record of 2:30:12 could be under threat.

But she too faces faster opposition. Ethiopia’s Betelhem Moges has Amsterdam and Beijing marathon victories to her name. A 2:24:29 performer at her best, the 25-year-old has never run slower than 2:29 in all seven of her marathons to date.

Ruti Aga had been hoping to improve on her 2:24:41 PB at last month’s Dubai Marathon. The 2012 world U20 5000m silver medallist was part of the lead pack for the first 30km but faded dramatically in the closing stages to cross the line in 2:46:16. The 23-year-old will be aiming to make amends for that disappointing showing.

Others in the field include Ethiopia’s 2015 Rome Marathon winner Meseret Kitata, Belarusian Olga Dubovskaya, Lanzhou Marathon winner Tsehay Desalegn of Ethiopia and 2010 Commonwealth 10,000m silver medallist Doris Changeiywo of Kenya.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF