Defending Chongqing International Marathon champion and course record-holder Afewerk Mesfin will return to the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (25).
The 25-year-old Ethiopian outraced Kenya’s Julius Tuwei in the final 500 meters of last year’s race to take the victory with a three-second margin. His winning time of 2:09:49 marked the first sub-2:10 clocking in the six-year history of the race and equalled the PB Mesfin set on his marathon debut in Dubai in 2013.
It was also Mesfin’s second career victory over 26.2 miles, following his win at the 2014 La Rochelle Marathon.
But the former steeplechaser will face a tough challenge when he defends his title in Chongqing as the organisers have assembled a group of high level runners in the Chinese southwest city.
Mesfin’s fiercest opponent should be his compatriot Endeshaw Negesse, who is also the fastest entrant on paper. Negesse holds a 2:04:52 lifetime best, set when finishing fourth – 10 places ahead of Mesfin – at the 2013 Dubai Marathon.
The 30-year-old won the 2015 Tokyo Marathon in 2:06:00, the second-best time of his career, but was then out of action for the next two years. He returned to competition two months ago at the Dubai Marathon, where he finished 18th in 2:26:17, but he will be aiming to go a lot quicker on Sunday.
Sisay Jisa Mekonnen, also from Ethiopia, is another serious candidate for the title. The 35-year-old finished third at the 2012 Paris Marathon in a lifetime best of 2:06:27 and last year he came within two minutes of that time when clocking 2:08:09 to finish fourth in Dubai.
His one marathon victory to date – the 2013 Guangzhou Marathon in 2:11:25 – came on Chinese soil, which might be a good omen for Sunday’s race.
Abayneh Ayele should also be regarded as one of the hot favourites. After making his debut over the classic distance in 2015, the consistent Ethiopian clocked 2:07:16 to finish fourth in Eindhoven, registered his PB to 2:06:45 at the 2016 Dubai Marathon and finished fifth in Paris last year in 2:07:42. Like Mekonnen, the 30-year-old also has experience of winning in China, having won the 2015 Lanzhou Marathon.
Charles Kiama Munyeki leads the Kenyan contingent. The 32-year-old set his PB of 2:07:06 at the Chicago Marathon back in 2009, but last bettered 2:10 back in 2012.
Munyeki’s compatriot Edwin Kimaiyo should be another man to watch on Sunday. He trimmed 35 seconds off his PB to finish fourth at last year’s Shanghai Marathon in 2:09:12.
While the race organisers may not be expecting an assault on the women’s course record of 2:22:41 set by China’s Wang Jiali in 2012, a close competition can be expected on Sunday.
Workenesh Edesa appears to be a slight favourite. The Ethiopian clocked a career best of 2:24:04 to win the 2016 Xiamen Marathon in 2016 and then came close to that mark last year when finishing second in Xiamen in 2:26:27. The 25-year-old also won the 2015 Marrakesh Marathon.
Since her first race in China in 2011, Ethiopia’s Meseret Legese has returned to China each year and achieved her PB of 2:25:43 in Wuhan two years ago. She won the 2016 Hengshui Lake International Marathon and clocked 2:31:00 to finish fifth in Hong Kong in January. But despite her extensive experience in China, Sunday’s contest will be her first race in Chongqing,
Fellowing Ethiopian Fantu Jimma Eticha clocked her 2:26:14 career best at the 2015 Dubai Marathon. The 30-year-old, who is still waiting for her first marathon victory since debuting at the distance in 2014, finished third in Hong Kong two months ago in 2:30:10.
Compatriot Zinash Debebe Getachew also arrives in Chongqing with high spirits. The 21-year-old chopped nearly three minutes off her PB to finish fourth at last month’s Seville Marathon in 2:27:47.
Kenyan veteran Priscah Jepleting Cherono, 37, is another sub-2:28 runner. She clocked 2:27:41 en route to winning at the 2016 Venice Marathon and last year she registered a solid 2:28:29 at the Seoul Marathon.
Alemitu Abera Begna of Ethiopia is the fastest woman on paper thanks to her winning mark of 2:23:14 at the 2012 Houston Marathon, but she hasn’t bettered 2:25 since then and has completed just three races in the past four years, including a fourth-place finish at the Barcelona Marathon in 2:30:55 two weeks ago.