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Tough defence awaits Kipchumba in Xiamen - PREVIEW

The 9th Xiamen International Marathon to be held on Saturday (7) in Xiamen, China, has once again attracted impressive fields. Fast times can be expected in the beautiful and relatively fast course especially in the men's race.

Last year's winner at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race, 27-year-old Kenyan Robert Kipchumba, returns to where he won in 2011 in a 2:08:07 personal best. Later the Kenyan, who ran his first Marathon in April 2009, finished in tenth place in Boston.

There is no shortage of challengers in the race with several athletes who have run well below 2:10. Last year's third place finisher, Ethiopian Alemayehu Shumye (PB 2:08:46) returns to Xiamen too, but the fastest man in the race is 31-year-old Kenyan Albert Matebor, who set a big personal best 2:05:25 finishing third in Frankfurt in October 2011, just two months ago. The Kenyan, running in China for the first time, has won one Marathon, in Verona, Italy, last February.

Other big names include 24-year-old Ethiopian Tadesse Tola, who has run a PB 2:06:31 in Frankfurt 2011 and recorded a 2:07:13 season's best in Eindhoven last October. Rachid Kisri, 36, from Morocco, finished 11th in the Daegu World Championships last year and also has a strong 2:06:48 personal best. The veteran runner was third in the 2009 Xiamen Marathon in 2:10:33. Another runner who has tasted success in China before is 25-year-old Kenyan Samuel Muturi. The Japan based runner finished in second place at the 2011 Beijing Marathon in a season's best 2:09:43 and also set his PB 2:08:20 in Beijing winning there in 2009.

28-year-old Ethiopian Negari Terfa did not succeed in Xiamen last year (8th in 2:18:18), but has a good personal best 2:07:41 from 2009. There are several other relatively fast east Africans in the race so we could have a winner coming from outside the top names too. The top Chinese in the race is Yan Longfei, but with a 2:15:45 personal best he has no chance for the top placings.

On the women's side things are different for the hosts. The cream of the Chinese marathon running is present and they will surely offer good resistance against fast Africans. Last year the winning result was only 2:31:49 by Ethiopian Amane Gobena, but this time there are much faster runners in the race.

Hasen and Kiprop take on solid domestic line-up - women's race

Just 19-year-old Merima Hasen of Ethiopia has the fastest time of the field, 2:23:06, recorded in Toronto in September 2010 when she was just 18 years old. Hasen also ran 2:24:32 for fourth place in Frankfurt two months ago and won the Düsseldorf Marathon in May 2011.

She will be challenged by 32-year-old Kenyan Agnes Kiprop, who finished ahead of the young Ethiopian in Frankfurt with a 2:23:54 personal best for the second place. She also ran a fast 2:24:40 in April 2011 in Paris finishing in runner-up position there too.

From the Chinese athletes 33-year-old Zhou Chunxiu, Olympic bronze medallist from 2008 and World Championships silver medallist from 2007, returns to action following a disappointing 2011 season. She has a personal best 2:19:51 from Seoul 2006. 27-year-old Zhu Xiaolin ran her personal best 2:23:57 almost ten years ago as an 18-year-old in Beijing 2002, but has since proven to be one of the most reliable Marathon runners in major championships. She was fourth in both 2008 Olympics and 2007 World Championships and then placed fifth in 2009 and sixth in 2011 World Championhips.

The 2009 Xiamen winner Chen Rong is also in the race accompanied by countrywoman Wang Jiali, who was third in Xiamen last year and placed eighth in Daegu World Championships. These athletes are joined by a few other African runners, who have an outside shot at the win, Ethiopian Ashu Kasim being the best of the rest.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF