Kenya’s William Kipsang will return to the Beirut Marathon, which celebrates its 12th edition on Sunday (7), looking to become just the second man to successfully defend his title at the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race.
Last year, Kipsang surprised many people to win in 2:13:34, his first win over the classic distance for more than five years.
It was a welcome return to the top of the podium for the man who set his personal best of 2:05:49 when winning the 2008 Rotterdam Marathon
However, at 37 and perhaps with his best days behind him, Kipsang may struggle to hold off two talented Ethiopian runners.
Fikadu Girma Teferi finished third at the Dusseldorf Marathon earlier this year, clocking 2:09:34 for the distance while his compatriot Abdela Godana will be making his marathon debut but can point to a best of 27:54 over 10km on the roads.
Other contenders for a place on the podium include Russia’s Girgoriy Andreev, who has a best of 2:10:25, US international distance runner Carlos Trujillo and Uganda’s Phillip Kiplimo, the 2013 World Mountain Running Championships gold medallist who finished eighth in the marathon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The men’s course record is 2:11:14, set by Ethiopia’s Tariku Jufar in 2011, and that will be a feasible target for the men’s elite field, especially as some adjustments have been made to the course in a deliberate attempt to make it a faster circuit.
Zemzem Ahmed, with a best of 2:27:12 from the 2012 Frankfurt Marathon, is the favourite for the women’s race but she will want to bounce back from her disappointing run of 2:39:46 in Sydney on 21 September.
More indicative of her talent, the former 3000m steeplechase African champion ran 2:29:35 when finishing third in the Paris Marathon back in April.
She will be bidding to be the eighth successive Ethiopian woman to triumph in Beirut, that winning streak coming after the four Kenyan wins in as many years at the start of the race’s history.
There will be a lot of interest in the performance of Olga Dubovskaya, from Belarus, who clocked a personal best of 2:28:08 at the 2012 Dusseldorf Marathon but who then struggled home in a disappointing 77th place at the 2012 Olympics.
She has not run a marathon since but will finally be looking to banish those bad memories and perhaps bid for her second marathon victory, after also winning in the Germany city of Munster in 2010.
Other women who could be a factor include the Chinese duo of Jin Lingling and Wenrong Zheng, with personal bests of 2:30:27 and 2:32:54 respectively.
Kyrgyzstan's two-time Olympian Julia Andreyeva, with a best of 2:30:58 from the 2012 Prague Marathon; Kenya’s 2013 Milan City Marathon champion Monica Jepkoech, when she ran her best of 2:32:54; as well as the Ethiopian pair of marathon debutante Mulahabt Tsega Chekol and 2:32:11 woman Makida Abdela also form part of what could be an enthralling women’s race.
Like with the men's race, a course record is not beyond the pale and the leading women will be looking to improve on the time of 2:31:38 run by Ethiopia's Seada Kedir in 2011.
As a guest of honour, Ethiopian distance-running legend Haile Gebrselassie will be the official race starter. Organisers expect an estimated 40,000 participants in the marathon and the other races staged on Sunday.
Phil Minshull and organisers for the IAAF