Chemtai Rionotukei and Azmeraw Bekele will defend their titles at the Taiyuan Marathon, but they will face competitive fields at the IAAF Silver Label road race on Saturday (8).
Rionotukei broke the course record last year with 2:29:36, coming within three minutes of the PB she had set earlier in the year. The 32-year-old Kenyan hasn’t shown quite the same kind of form this year, though, placing second in Taipei and sixth in Dongying, both times finishing just shy of 2:35.
Five of the women in the field have quicker PBs than Rionotukei. Sarah Chepchirchir is the fastest of those, having set a lifetime best of 2:19:47 to win last year’s Tokyo Marathon. The 34-year-old Kenyan’s form this year is untested, though, as she hasn’t raced since winning the Lisbon Marathon in 2:27:57 last October.
Agnes Barsosio recorded a PB of 2:20:59 when finishing second in Paris last year. Her best this year, 2:27:46, was set when finishing third in Gold Coast in July.
Rael Kiyara is a 2:25:23 performer at her best, but that mark dates back to 2011. Her season’s best of 2:31:06 came when placing fourth in Dongying, while last year her best was 2:26:22, set when winning in Chongqing. Chinese marathons are clearly to her liking.
Flomena Chepchirchir Chumba is another strong Kenyan heading to Taiyuan. Her 2:23:00 PB was set in Frankfurt in 2013 and this year she finished sixth in Prague in 2:32:10.
Ethiopia’s Meskerem Abera Hunde and Meseret Mengistu will be aiming to break up the Kenyan dominance in Taiyuan. Hunde set a PB of 2:28:35 to win this year’s Wuhan Marathon, while 2015 Paris Marathon winner Mengistu, a 2:23:26 performer at her best, clocked 2:30:15 to finish third in Xiamen earlier this year.
A small number of elite women will be making their marathon debut in Taiyuan. Of those, China’s Zhang Deshun appears to have the most potential. She set a PB of 1:11:28 at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018 and more recently took bronze over 10,000m at the Asian Games in a PB of 32:12.78.
Bekele won by just four seconds in Taiyuan last year, clocking 2:12:49. The Ethiopian, who has a PB of 2:07:12 from the 2014 Dubai Marathon, went on to win the Hangzhou Marathon two months later in 2:10:33 but hasn’t raced since then.
Just two men in the field have faster PBs than the defending champion, but neither of those – 2:06:49 performer Sylvester Kimeli Teimet of Kenya and 2:07:10 runner Tebalu Zawude of Ethiopia – have shown that kind of form this year.
Teimet, however, clocked a best of 2:11:00 last year, while Zawude had a 2017 season’s best of 2:11:50. If they bring that form to Taiyuan, it could be enough for a podium finish.
Ezekiel Kemboi Omullo could be the man to beat on Saturday. The Kenyan clocked a season’s best of 2:11:17 to win the Warsaw Marathon earlier this year, just two minutes and 22 seconds shy of the PB he set when winning the same race in 2016.
Evans Sambu has a season’s best of 2:17:39, but it was set in Dongying where he finished ahead of several other athletes heading to Taiyuan. His PB of 2:09:05 was set just last year and he finished third in Taiyuan 12 months ago, so will be familiar with the course.
Compatriot Mark Lokwanamoi finished behind Sambu in Dongying but has a slightly faster PB, 2:08:37 set in Dubai last year. Joseph Kachapin Aperumoi’s PB, also set last year, is even quicker at 2:08:26.
Ethiopia’s Samuel Getachew Demie is the only other man in the field with a season’s best quicker than 2:15. His lifetime best of 2:09:44 was set in Rabat last year.
Given that no one in the field has run faster than 2:11 this year, it’s unlikely – but not impossible – that Berhanu Shiferaw’s course record of 2:08:51 from 2012 will be broken.