Jackson Limo knows full well it won’t be easy defending his Blom Bank Beirut Marathon title on Sunday (13).
On that occasion at this IAAF Silver Label Road Race, he had dropped the competition by 35km and eventually crossed the finish line with a staggering two-minute margin of victory in 2:11:04, a new Beirut record.
Inspired by his training partners, who include Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan star says he is seeking the honour of becoming the first man to win back-to-back titles at this event, which this year features IAAF President Sebastian Coe as its official starter. Limo would also like to improve both the event record and his personal best which has stood at 2:09:04 since 2014.
Elite Athlete Coordinator Hussein Makke has assembled quite the cast of characters eager to upset Limo’s plans.
“Every year we are trying to improve and bring in some higher level athletes,” Makke said. “We have been successful the last two years. When the athletes leave Beirut they leave with smiles and that helps. But we still have the target to improve the image overall and continue hopefully to attract higher and higher quality athletes. I’m very, very pleased with the men’s field.”
Jisa and Abera lead Ethiopian challenge
Leading the way are the Ethiopian duo of Sisay Jisa and Dejere Abera. The former is easily spotted in a pack since he wears his hair in corn rows earning himself the nickname ‘Sherube' after this particular hair style. Moreover, he has the credentials to match his flair.
Four years ago he raced to a personal best of 2:06:27 at the Paris Marathon. His compatriot, Abera, has a proven marathon record though his personal best is a more modest 2:10:19.
Among other notables is British Olympian Tsegai Tewelde, who qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a 2:12:23 debut at the London Marathon.
The Beirut course has been modified slightly from last year when some roads were closed for security reasons. Again there are some twists and turns for the athletes to deal with.
“The course has changed maybe 20 to 25 percent,” Makke said. “But the other changes were to improve the course and keep it flatter. There are turns; this is Beirut, you cannot escape it. This course is much faster and we hope for a good race.”
Kedir vs Girma in the women’s race
Last year’s women’s champion, Kaltoum Bousayriyaa, who is a member of the Moroccan Armed Forces, was unable to return this year but a previous champion will toe the line.
Seada Kedir, 28, who won the race in both 2011 and 2012 then finished third in 2014, will be here along with fellow Ethiopian Tigist Girma. The latter is just 23 and made her debut ten months ago in winning fashion. Her 2:33:03 gave her top spot in Marrakech.
Ukraine’s timeless wonder, Olena Shurkhno, has her mind set on victory and has the experience and curriculum vitae to accomplish this. It was four years ago when she ran 2:23:32 to finish third in Berlin. Since then she has given birth to a son and returned to competition with aplomb. Last December, aged 38, she won the Macau Marathon (2:33:24) under similar conditions to those she will face here on Sunday.
Rasa Drazdauskaite, a three-time Olympian for Lithuania, will also be a contender. Her personal best of 2:29:29 came at the London Olympics. She also finished 11th at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
A temperature of 19C is predicted for the 7:00 a.m. start time rendering exceptionally fast times a hopeful prospect. Still these are the conditions that Limo and his fellow competitors endured a year ago when he set the course record. And, organisers have their fingers crossed there will be cloud cover and a breeze off the Mediterranean Sea to help cool the athletes.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF