Moses Arusei (KEN) (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright

Stiff challenge for Arusei’s defence ambitions in Seoul - preview

The 2010 Seoul International Marathon on Sunday features strong fields for both men and women including some previous winners of this traditional race.

The 81st Dong-A Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will start from Gwanghwamun Plaza at 8.00am with 26-year-old Kenyan Moses Arusei among the runners and ready to defend his 2009 title from this race.

Last year Arusei won in a fast 2:07:54, his season’s best and second fastest career time behind his 2:06:50 personal best in Paris 2008. The Kenyan won clearly with a 36-second margin ahead of Ethiopian Yirdaw Dejene, who clocked a 2:08:30 personal best. But Arusei might not be the favourite this time in a race which promises to be very fast. A total of seven athletes with career bests under 2:07 are in the race lead by 32-year-old William Kipsang, who has the fastest PB with 2:05:49 for a win in Rotterdam 2008. The Kenyan has competed in Seoul three times before (2004-2006) and won the race in 2005.

Also in the race is Kenyan Gilbert Kirwa, who was a newcomer to the world Marathon scene last year. Kirwa has won both of his marathons clocking a fast 2:08:21 in his début in Vienna in April 2009 and then went even faster, winning in Frankfurt last October in 2:06:14. Bazo Worku of Ethiopia, just 19, clocked an unbelievable World Junior Best 2:06:15 placing second in his first and only marathon in Paris last year and will be making his second Marathon outing this weekend in Seoul. Kenyans David Kiyeng (PB 2:06:26 -09) and Paul Kirui (2:06:44 -06) are amongst the fastest starters. Kirui, who won the World Half Marathon Championship in 2004, has raced here once before in 2007 when he finished in second place.

South African Gert Thys, 38, also returns to Seoul having won this race on two occasions, in 2003 and 2004, when he also ran his second fastest career marathon clocking 2:07:06 (PB 2:06:33 -99). Other top names in this race include 31-year-old Eritrean Yared Asmeron, who was eighth in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. More sub-2:10 Kenyans here are Abraham Chelanga, Mariko Kiplagat and Sylvester Teimet, who placed third in this marathon last year.

Russian Oleg Kulkov is the top European, but hosts Korea will find it hard to run to top placings as their best runner, Yu Young-Jin, only has a personal best 2:13:57 from 2004 and he was 11th in this marathon in 2009 clocking 2:15:51, well behind top three.

Zhou has the target on her back- Women’s race

In the women’s race there is one name above the others, 31-year-old seasoned Chinese runner Zhou Chunxiu. The Jiangsu province athlete has won big marathons and also done well in major championships. Zhou was second at the Osaka World Champs in 2007 and grabbed a bronze medal at the Olympics in 2008. Zhou, who also has won the London Marathon in 2007, won this particular marathon two times in a row (2005 and 2006) clocking her still standing personal best 2:19:51 in 2006, which is of course also the course record. The Chinese athlete, who placed fourth in Berlin at the World Champs last year just outside the medals has plenty of competition available here.

27-year-old Ethiopian Amane Gobena has already won a major Marathon this year winning in Osaka with a 2:25:14 personal best in January. Kenyan Caroline Kilel, 28, is also running. She was fourth at the World Half Marathon Championships last year and ran her marathon best 2:25:24 winning the Ljubljana Marathon last October. Kilel has competed here once before, finishing seventh in 2007.

Another possible candidate for the top podium here is 26-year-old France-based Kenyan Martha Komu, who was fifth at the Beijing Olympics. Komu’s personal best is from a victorious 2008 Paris Marathon, but she collapsed at the Berlin World Champs finishing in 47th place in 2:42:14. 33-year-old Moroccan Asmae Leghzaoui is also running for the first time in Seoul. She has won the Ottawa Marathon for two years in a row 2008-2009 and clocked her personal best 2:27:41 there last year.

The hosts Korea are also fielding several sub-2:30 runners lead by 28-year-old Lee Eun-Jung who won this marathon six years ago in 2004 setting a personal best 2:26:17, and also finished fifth in 2008. Other home runners include 25-year-old Lee Sun-Young, who was second last year with a 2:27:48 personal best behind winner Robe Guta of Ethiopia. Guta is not running this time, but 23-year-old Chinese Wang Xueqin, another Jiangsu province runner, returns to this Marathon where she set her PB 2:28:39 two years ago finishing second.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF