Tadese Tola at the 2013 IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)
The 33rd Beijing International Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, sees a strong line-up in the men’s race with hopes that the long-standing course record by Ethiopia’s Abebe Mekonnen, which has celebrated 25 years as the best mark in the Chinese capital, will be challenged on Sunday morning (20).
Mekonnen ran 2:07:35 in 1988, which also proved to be a career best for the 1986 IAAF World Cross Country Championships silver medallist, after a thrilling battle with Hiromi Taniguchi, the Japanese runner finishing just five seconds behind, and the pair moved up to equal fifth and seventh on the all-time lists at the time.
Runners have come close since then, notably South Africa’s Ian Syster who ran 2:07:49 a decade ago in 2003 when he was the last winner other than a Kenyan or Ethiopian, but none have beaten Mekonnen’s illustrious time.
Ethiopia’s Berhanu Shiferaw certainly has the credentials to improve on his compatriot's course record.
The 20-year-old started his career as a steeplechaser but has already finished six Marathons to date with a big personal best of 2:04:48 coming when he finished second in the Dubai Marathon at the start of this year.
Another Ethiopian in Beijing is the 25-year-old Tadesse Tola. He recorded his personal best time of 2:04:49 in Dubai, finishing just behind Shiferaw, and then went on to take the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in August.
Abebe Degefa is another Ethiopian who comes to Beijing looking to reassert himself over the classic distance. His best Marathon time of 2:09:52 was set more than four years ago in Vienna, and he hasn’t completed a Marathon since March 2011, but he had a very promising Half Marathon outing when he clocked 1:00:40 at Usti Nad Labem in Czech Republic last month.
The leading Kenyans in this year’s race are 28-year-old Nicholas Kamakya, who clocked a best of 2:06:34 in 2011, and the 27-year-old Bernard Kipyego, who has run 2:07:53 in Tokyo this year and has a best of 2:06:29 from the 2011 Chicago race.
Other potential challengers, at least for a place on the podium, include the 39-year-old Moroccan Ahmed Baday, who set a 2:09:16 personal best in Daegu last year, and 30-year-old Ethiopian Dereje Yadete, who has a best of 2:09:50 from 2012. Kenya’s Elias Chelimo, now 29, is another athlete who has run under 2:10 in 2013. He clocked 2:09:49 in Warsaw back in April and has a best of 2:07:04 from 2010.
The last Chinese winner was Li Zhuhong in 2002 and, to be fair, it is difficult seeing any local runner triumphing in the men’s race this year. But it is a different story in the women’s race, where Chinese runners have won every year since 1991 and last year filled the top nine places.
Jia to defend women's title
Last year’s emphatic winner, Jia Chaofeng, returns to Beijing where she was victorious in a 2:27:40 personal best.
This year, Jia won the National Games Marathon in May in 2:29:45 and was part of the leading pack during the early stages of the race at the World Championships, but did not finish in Moscow.
The best competition to Jia from outside China will come from Ethiopia.
Harun Makda, 25, has run a 2:26:46 personal best in Paris last year, where she finished third. She will start her third Marathon of 2013 in Beijing but didn’t get inside on her previous outings in Hong Kong and Rotterdam.
Makda’s compatriot Yeshimebet Tadesse is the fastest in the field having set a 2:26:17 personal best for third place in Seoul this year but was less impressive when she was only sixth in 2:32:44 in Ottowa back in May. Since then she has rested and trained but Beijing will be her fourth Marathon of 2013.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF