Runners from Kenya look set to continue their recent dominance at the Kosice Peace Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday (2).
Founded in 1924, the Kosice event is Europe's oldest marathon, this year celebrating its 93rd edition.
The course records --Lawrence Kimaiyo's 2:07:01 men's mark set in 2012 and Ashete Bekere Dido's 2:27:47 women's standard set in 2013-- may not be under imminent threat, but the solid fields attracted to this eastern Slovak city promise strong head-to-head battles.
As expected, the strongest contingent comes from Kenya, particularly in the men's race, where runners from the east African distance running powerhouse have won at 10 of the past 11 editions.
Daniel Limo may be a factor. The 32-year-old has a career best of 2:08:09 which dates back to 2011, but comes armed with a victory at last year's Los Angeles Marathon, where he clocked 2:10:36, his second fastest time. Earlier this year he was second in Stockholm in 2:12:00.
The field includes Elijah Kemboi, who won here in 2011 in 2:11:15, and has since produced three sub-2:08 performances, his best a 2:07:34 from Frankfurt in 2013. He finished a distant 11th in Paris last spring and will be eager to put that performance behind him.
Evans Ruto is another familiar face in Kosice. In 2012 he finished third in 2:07:49, still his personal best, and returned last year as a pace setter, leading Sammy Kosgei to his 2:07:07 victory.
Samson Bungei, who clocked a 2:08:33 career best in Cologne in 2009, ran 2:10:27 last year in Milan but hasn't raced over the distance this year.
Others with sub-2:10 credentials include Josphat Leting, who clocked 2:09:34 in Enschede in 2013, and Henry Kipsigei Chirchir, who ran 2:09:24 in Cologne in 2012 and has notched victories in Hannover and Nagano in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Leading the Ethiopian charge is Abere Kassaw Belay, the 22-year-old who ran his 2:08:18 personal best in Dubai in 2014. More recently, he finished second at this year's Zurich Marathon in 2:13:34.
On paper the fastest man in the field is Kenyan David Kiyeng, who clocked 2:06:26 in 2009 when he finished third in Paris. However, the 33-year-old hasn't dipped under 2:14 in the past two years and won't start among the favourites.
Ruto, Diro and Damastevich eager to collect second victories
On the women's side, Kenyan Emily Ngetich paces the field.
The 32-year-old Kenyan brings a 2:25:14 personal best to the line from her fourth place finish at the Frankfurt Marathon in 2014. She hasn't contested a marathon this year, but last year finished ninth in Paris clocking 2:30:47.
Lydia Rutto meanwhile returns to collect a second Kosice victory after her 2:28:48 triumph in 2014. The 22-year-old has a 2:28:22 personal best from 2013.
Likewise for another 22-year-old, Mulu Diro of Ethiopia, who returns to defend her title. Diro won in 2:35:33 last year, but also has two sub-2:30 outings to her credit along with runner-finishes in Barcelona and Rome in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Another Ethiopian, former junior steeplechase standout Halima Hassen, also returns to familiar stomping grounds. The 23-year-old was second here when still a junior in 2011, clocking 2:35:47, but has since improved steadily, most recently to 2:30:07 one year ago.
Others to watch include Ethiopian Chaltu Waka, who ran her 2:29:30 best last year; 2011 winner Maryna Damastchevich of Belarus, a 2016 Olympian in the event who clocked 2:30:07 in 2015; and Ethiopian Tinbit Gidey Weldegebriel, the winner this year in Hainan, clocking 2:31:27.
Runners from 58 countries have registered for the weekend’s events which also include a half marathon and relay events.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF