Cyprian Kotut, Meseret Mengistu and Mark Korir ahead of the 2016 Paris Marathon (© Jiro Mochizuki)
For the first time at the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris, both reigning champions will attempt to retain their crowns at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (3).
But Meseret Mengistu and Mark Korir face a tough task as only one man and one woman – Steve Brace in 1990 and Atsede Baysa in 2010 – have achieved back-to-back wins in the French capital.
On a course where the first part is flatter than the second, last year Korir became the first Paris Marathon winner to record negative splits, clocking 2:05:49. The Kenyan went on to finish 22nd at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 in a modest 2:21:19, which remains his most recent marathon.
But based on his recent 1:03:41 half-marathon run in Verona, Korir doesn’t seem to be in the same form as he was in 2015.
With nine men in the field boasting PBs faster than 2:07, there are plenty of candidates who will be looking to take the first-place prize.
Kenya’s Bernard Koech is the fastest man in the field with a PB of 2:04:53 set three years ago in Dubai. He is also the only man in the field whose lifetime best is faster than the course record of 2:05:03 set by Kenenisa Bekele on his marathon debut in 2014.
Koech, who finished third in Rotterdam last year before going on to win over 10 miles in Tilburg, is looking to achieve his first marathon victory.
Laban Korir will be hoping to improve on his sixth-place finish in Paris last year. The 2014 Toronto Marathon winner has a PB of 2:06:05.
Ethiopia’s 2008 world indoor 3000m bronze medallist Abraham Cherkos is also a man to watch. The former track specialist still holds the world U18 bests over 3000m and 5000m from 2006, while his marathon PB of 2:06:13 was set in 2011. His two marathons last year were both in Seoul, running 2:08:14 in March and 2:09:22 in November.
Not to be discounted either is
Kenya’s Stephen Chemlany cannot be discounted either. The Commonwealth silver medallist has a best of 2:06:24, while his most recent marathon was a 2:09:04 clocking in Eindhoven last October.
Cyprian Kotut could be an underdog. Younger brother of three-time London Marathon winner Martin Lel, the 24-year-old is fresh from a victory on the streets of the French capital, having won the Paris Half Marathon last month in 1:01:00. Having recorded a PB of 59:12 for the half marathon in 2014, Kotut made his marathon debut in Milan last year and finished second in 2:08:55.
Other podium contenders include Kenya’s 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Micah Kogo, last year’s Paris Marathon third-place finisher Seboka Tola, Kenya’s 2:06:48 man Alfers Lagat and two-time Paris podium finisher Luka Kanda.
French hopes rest with Benjamin Malaty who will be looking to run faster than the French Olympic qualifying standard of 2:11:00. He set his PB of 2:12:00 in Paris three years ago.
Pacemakers have been asked to reach half way in 1:03:15 to set up the race for a sub-2:07 finish.
Mengistu to face strong opposition
Along with the men’s race, the women’s race looks wide open.
Mengistu was a surprising winner last year when she smashed her PB by nearly six minutes to win in 2:23:26. Six months later, the 26-year-old then finished seventh in Frankfurt in 2:28:58.
Compatriots Gulume Tollesa and Dinkinesh Mekash finished more than five minutes ahead of Mengistu in Frankfurt and they will line up alongside each other again on Sunday. Tollesa and Mekash both clocked PBs of 2:23:12 in the German city with Tollesa being awarded the victory, but Mekash has past experience of the Paris Marathon, having finished fourth in 2013.
Worknesh Edesa heads to Paris having never been beaten in a marathon. She won on her debut in Marrakech last year in 2:31:06 and then improved to 2:24:04 to triumph in Xiamen earlier this year.
Former track specialist Mestawet Tufa, the 2008 world cross-country silver medallist, is one of the most experienced athletes in the field and has a PB of 2:24:37.
Kenya’s Rebecca Chesir Kangogo has steadily improved over the past few years. The 24-year-old produced a best of 2:25:22 in Dubai last year before going on to finish second in Ottawa. With a best of 1:08:21, she also boasts the fastest half-marathon PB in the field.
Visiline Jepkesho finished third in Paris last year in a PB of 2:24:44. She went on to finish a distant 20th at the IAAF World Championships Beijing and then failed to finish in Nagoya last month, but in between those races she clocked a half-marathon PB of 1:09:43.
The women’s course record of 2:21:06 – set by Ethiopia’s Feyse Tadese in 2013 – looks relatively safe, but this race has often played host to big improvements and surprise performances.
The conditions on Sunday should be fine with little wind and temperatures about 10C at the start.
A record of 55,000 runners are expected to take to the start line on the Avenue des Champs Elysées. They will run past famous Paris monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Bastille and Notre-Dame Cathedral as the race also goes through the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne.
Quentin Guillon for the IAAF