James Kwambai winning the 2011 JoongAng Seoul Marathon (© Sean Wallace Jones)
2 November 2012 - James Kipsang Kwambai will be targeting a title defence at the JoongAng Seoul Marathon on Sunday (4).
A large field of 15,346 runners, including 160 foreigners, are expected to toe the start line of this IAAF Silver Label Road Race, but it will be Kwambai who will be commanding the most attention.
Men’s race -
The men’s international elite field is composed of 16 athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco Tanzania and Eritrea who will be battling for the $114,500 international elite prize purse, while 77 men and 28 women will compete for $34,400 up for grabs in the men’s and women’s domestic division, as in previous years.
Kwambai returns to Seoul not only to defend his title but to improve 2:08:13 course record set by his countryman Jason Mbote in 2006. Kwambai clocked a 2:04:27 personal best at the Rotterdam Marathon in 2009, won the JoongAng Marathon 2011 clocking 2:08:50, and finished second in the Seoul International Marathon this year in 2:06:03.
Kwambai will compete with four countrymen. Among them is Benjamin Kiptoo, 33 who set his 2:06:31 PB at the 2011 Paris Marathon but has just a modest 2:14:32 season’s best, also from Paris. Kenneth Mungara, 39, has 2:07:36 credentials from Prague 2011, also well shy of his 2:15:59 season’s best, also set in Paris. Boniface Kirui, 25, has a 1:01:07 Half Marathon personal best from 2011 and more recently clocked 1:13:18 over 25km in Berlin. Rounding out the Kenyan contingent is William Chebon Chebor, 29, who set his 2:08:21 career best in Turin in 2011. He has a 1:00:49 Half Marathon PB from Udine 2010 and clocked 2:10:27 for the Marathon this season at the Seoul International.
They will be opposed by some of their traditional rivals from Ethiopian. Dereje Tesfaye, 27, has a 2:08:36 PB set in Fukuoka 2009 and a 2:12:34 season’s best from Dubai; Gebreselassie Tsegay with a 2:09:44 PB set in 2009’s Eindhoven Marathon and a 2:15:46 season’s best from Ottawa; and 20-year-old Marathon debutant Andualem Belay, who set a 1:00:10 Half Marathon PB at the Lille Half Marathon, and a 1:00:20 performance, also this year, from the ABN Amro Hague Half Marathon.
Leading the Eritrean charge is Tewelde Estifanos, 31, with a 1:01:39 Half Marathon PB from 2011, who more recently clocked 1:02:10 for ninth at the World Half Marathon Championships.
Others to watch include Tanzania’s Marathon debutant Ezekiel Jafari, 22, with a 1:00:41 Half Marathon PB from 2009, along with a trio from Morocco: Khalid El Boumlili (2:10:35 PB, Boston 2008), Abderrahim El Asri (PBs 1:02:16, 2011/2:14:30, 2011); and Hafid Chani (1:02:23, 2011).
As in 2011 the Korean challenge will be led by 31-year-old Youngjun Ji, who clocked 2:08:30 and 2:09:31 at the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Daegu Marathon. Joining him are 22-year-old Jinhuyeok Jeong with a PB of 2:09:28 set at Seoul Int’l Marathon 2011 and season’s best 2:11:48 set at the same race this year; Junhyeon Hwang, 25, with a 2:10:43 PB from the 2010 JungAng Seoul Marathon; and Kim Min who brings a 2:13:11 PB from the 2010 Seoul Int’l Marathon.
The pack will be led by two pacemakers: 20-year-old Afewerk Mesfin from Ethiopia and 26-year-old Kenyan Stephen Kosgei Kibet who clocked a PB 2:08:05 this year at Rotterdam.
Women’s race -
As at many other Korean marathons, the elite women’s field is entirely domestic. Among them is 28-year-old Sunyoung Lee with a 2:27:48 PB set at the 2009 Seoul International Marathon, and season’s best 2:37:13 from the same race. Others to watch are 23-year-old Seongeun Kim with a 2:29:27 PB from the 2010 Seoul International Marathon and a 2:29:53 season’s best at the same race this year; Jinsook Chang, 29, with a 2:32:14 PB from Jeonju Marathon 2007; Ho Sun Park, 25, with a PB 2:32:21 in 2009 Seoul International Marathon and season’s best 2:34:02 from the same race; and Kyeonghee Lim, 29, with 2:32:49 PB and season’s best set this year in Daegu.
The current women’s course record of 2:29:32 was set in 2007 by Korean Eung-Jung Lee.
The best Korean men’s and women’s elites, mentioned above, were also announced by the organisers of last Sunday’s Chosunilbo Chuncheon International Marathon, however they chose not to contest it. “Domestic elite runners register for all three main Korean marathons, and before the start they decide either to run or to miss the race depending on the weather and their health condition,” said Dooree Moon, one of the JoongAng Marathon organisers.
The first JoongAng Seoul Marathon was held in 1988 in the wake of Seoul's Summer Olympic Games, with the intention to maintain high Marathon running standards. The slightly hilly course starts and finishes at the Jamsil Sports Complex and takes runners on a scenic tour through the Korean capital and suburbs, past the Olympic Park, across the Tanchun and Tancheon Bridges and through the city's main market areas. The marathon can be viewed live from 8 a.m. local time at www.kbs.co.kr.
Yelena Kurdyumova and Sergey Porada for the IAAF