Workneh Tesfa after winning at the 2014 Yellow River Estuary International Marathon (© organisers)
Defending champions Workneh Tesfa and Mestawet Tufa, both from Ethiopia, have returned to the Chinese city of Dongying and will be looking to notch up back-to-back wins at the Yellow River Estuary International Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (26).
The 30-year-old Tesfa broke Kenya’s five-year dominance in the men’s race to win in 2:12:02 last year, just 28 seconds shy of the course record of 2:11:44 set by Kenya’s Isaac Macharia in 2010.
This year, Tesfa not only aims to retain his title in Dongying to become the first multiple winner of the men’s race but also must stand a chance of improving on Macharia’s mark considering his impressive victory in 2:08:51 at the Marrakech Marathon in January, where he took more than a minute from his previous personal best.
However, it will not be an easy job for Tesfa since there are nine men on the entry list that have faster personal bests than him.
Tesfa’s biggest rival in the field, at least on paper, should be Ethiopia’s Bentayehu Assefa , who has a best of 2:06:22 when he finished second in Amsterdam in 2012.
However, Assefa is on the comeback trail. He ran 2:09:35 to finish sixth at Rotterdam Marathon in 2013 but has never managed to finish a marathon ever since.
Despite his impressive best of 2:06:38 in 2008, former Boston Marathon winner Deriba Merga also need to prove his form as he has not run under 2:10 since 2012.
Ronald Korir could be a serious contender in Dongying and has a best of 2:07:29 set last year.
The Kenyan entered the 2014 Frankfurt Marathon as a pace maker but, after leading the front men to the 35km point, he continued and finished sixth on his debut at the distance.
Kamais has Chinese experience
Peter Kamais, of Kenya, has run most of his career marathons in China and clocked a best of 2:07:32 to win the Xiamen International Marathon in 2012. The 38-year-old veteran also ran 2:09:53 to finish fifth in Xiamen in 2013 and came in fourth in 2:10:05 last year.
Like Kamais, Kenya’s Robert Kwambai has also accumulated plenty of experience running in China. The 29-year-old was fifth in Beijing in 2012 and improved his best by half-a-minute when he recorded 2:08:18 to finish fourth in a highly competitive Xiamen race this year.
Birhanu Gedefa, of Ethiopia, trimmed more than eight minutes from his best to win at the Houston Marathon in January in 2:08:03 and might be the man to look out for despite the presence of a number of faster men.
There are three other runners in the men’s race that have a sub-2:09 times to their names.
The 23-year-old Ishhimael Chemtan, of Kenya, won last year’s Ljubljana Marathon in 2:08:25 while his countryman Gilbert Kiptoo Chepkwony came home in 2:08:16 when finishing second in Daegu in 2012, and he was close to that time when winning in 2:08:26 at the Kosice Peace Marathon last year.
There is also Uganda’s Daniel Chepyegon, who clocked a best of 2:08:24 when finishing fifth at the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon.
Tufa looking to repel doubts
In the women’s race, reigning champion and course record holder Tufa did a wonderful job in Dongying last year to beat the previous course record of 2:30:09 and to win in 2:28:27 despite temperatures reaching 27 degrees Celsius.
She can boast of a best of 2:26:20 at 2013 Nagoya Women's Marathon but, more recently, she dropped out of the 2014 Toronto and 2015 Dubai marathons and only decided at the last moment to come back to Dongying so there must be a question mark over her form.
On times, the women’s field is led by a Kenya’s veteran Helena Kirop. Now 38, she ran her career best of 2:23:37 when winning at the 2011 Venice Marathon.
She has run in Dongying twice before, finishing as the runner-up in 2012 and fifth in 2013.
Ethiopian duo Asnakech Mengitsu and Sechale Dalasa could also be contenders for a place on the podium in the women’s race.
The 23-year-old Dalasa clocked a best of 2:26:27 when finishing fifth in Shanghai in 2012 and was fourth in the Houston Marathon in 2:27:12 back in January.
Mengitsu clocked a best of 2:25:50 when winning in Milan in 2010.
Two more women that have bests faster than the current Yellow River Estuary International Marathon course record.
Derbe Godana, of Ethiopia, ran 2:27:32 to finish fourth in Turin in 2012 while local runner Sun Laimei, the winner in Dongying in 2009, has a best of 2:27:55 when finishing second at the 2012 Beijing Marathon and will definitely get some of the biggest cheers of the day.
The Yellow River Estuary International Marathon was usually held in May in the past few years but the organizers decided to change its date to April from this year to provide the runners with a cooler temperature.
The weather forecast suggests it will be around 17 degrees Celsius when the race starts.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF