Lemi Berhanu Hayle after winning the 2016 Boston Marathon (© Getty Images)
The Xiamen International Marathon, the first IAAF Gold Label Road Race of 2017, will welcome a field of some 30,000 runners on Monday (2), but the star attraction will be Boston Marathon champion Lemi Berhanu.
First starting to run over the classic distance in 2014, the 22-year-old Ethiopian has established himself as one of the best marathon runners in the world. He claimed victory at the 2014 Zurich Marathon on his debut and went on to win in Dubai and Warsaw in the next year, reducing his PB to 2:05:28.
Berhanu improved his personal best to 2:04:33 when he finished second at the 2016 Dubai Marathon and then clocked 2:12:45 to win in Boston. He represented his country at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where he finished 13th in 2:13:29.
As the fastest man in the field, Berhanu is considered to be not only the favourite, but also a strong candidate to break the course record and Chinese all-comers’ record of 2:06:19 set by Kenya’s Moses Mosop in 2015.
It will be Berhanu’s third marathon in China, having won the 2013 Taiyuan Marathon and after placing 15th at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
Berhanu’s compatriot Dadi Yami also has a PB faster than the course record. The 34-year-old registered a career best of 2:05:41 when he finished sixth in Dubai in 2012. But the last time he ran faster than 2:10 was in 2015 with his fourth-place finish in Seoul in 2:08:05.
Fellow Ethiopian Mulugeta Wami also set his PB of 2:07:11 back in 2012 but his best performance in 2016, a 2:19:00 mark in Sydney, is some way off his best.
Shura Kitata, also from Ethiopia, was the runner-up in Xiamen in 2016. The 20-year-old burst on to the scene when running 2:08:53 on his marathon debut to finish third in Shanghai in 2015. His best mark of 2016 was his 2:10:04 second-place finish in Ottawa.
The entry list includes three other runners with sub-2:10 PBs, including Ukrainian duo Oleksandr Sitkovskyy and the 41-year-old Serhiy Lebid, as well as Ethiopia’s Haile Haja.
Edesa aims to retain title
Workenesh Edesa is hoping to successfully defend her title in the women’s race. The 24-year-old Ethiopian improved her PB by more than seven minutes in Xiamen last year, winning in 2:24:04 in what was her second marathon to date.
Edesa has been unbeaten in her first two marathon races, but her winning streak may come to a halt this time as she will face a quality field which is spearheaded by three runners with sub-2:24 PBs.
Meseret Mengistu is the fastest entrant. The 26-year-old Ethiopian set her PB of 2:23:25 when winning the 2015 Paris Marathon and went on to record a winning time of 2:25:56 at the 2016 Beijing Marathon.
Guteni Shone of Ethiopia, 25, trimmed nearly seven minutes off her PB to clock 2:23:32 en route to finishing second in Houston last year. But her best mark of 2016 was her 2:33:19 clocking in Houston.
Ethiopia’s Melkam Gizaw, the 2016 Beijing Marathon runner-up, is also a serious contender, having set a PB of 2:24:28 to finish second at the 2015 Seoul Marathon.
Meseret Legese will be running in Xiamen for the fourth consecutive year. She finished second to world champion Mare Dibaba, who set the course record of 2:19:52, in 2014 and 2015 before finishing fourth in 2016. The 29-year-old Ethiopian improved her PB to 2:25:43 in Wuhan in April and will be hoping that this will finally be her year.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF