Sydney marathon organisers are determined to see the race records go when this year’s race is run on Sunday (15).
The IAAF Gold Label road race, centrepiece of the mass participation Sydney Running Festival that has attracted almost 40,000 entrants, is not as fast as some courses, but any road course in Australia’s biggest city boasting one of the world’s iconic harbours, must be a compromise between aesthetics and degree of difficulty.
Nonetheless, organisers are confident the race records – 2:11:18 by Ethiopia’s Gebo Gameda Burka in 2014 and 2:28:04 by Ethiopian-born Australian resident Makda Harun Haji in 2017 – can be substantially improved. They have assembled a field and will provide the pacing to make that happen in this year’s race.
Australian 10,000m record holder Ben St. Lawrence will spearhead the pacers endeavouring to pilot the leading male runners through the first 25km on pace to break the men’s record. Corresponding assistance should see the leading women – including Harun Haji – through half-way on the required pace.
“We want to see the records broken this year,” race director Wayne Larden said on Friday, “and we think we have the depth in both fields for that to happen.”
Felix Kiprotich looks the pick of the men’s field. The 30-year-old Kenyan runner comes with strong current form. He recorded his personal best – 2:05:33 – in winning Korea’s Daegu marathon this April, so he is fast and in a winning mood. He also brings consistency, having four sub-2:07 times on his c.v.
Kiprotich has bettered 2:07 in four of the past five years and ran sub-2:08 in the only year he did not. He is also familiar with the region, his best performances all coming in Asia.
Elijah Kemboi won last year’s Sydney race by over two minutes in 2:13:33. Before last year he had run sub-2:10 for the previous six years. Besides his win in Sydney, he was second in Linz and won in Macao, so his consistency remains at a high level. Another Kenyan, Kiprotich Kirui, has bettered 2:10 each of the past three years including a 2:09:05 for third place in Madrid earlier this year.
Japanese runners have a good recent record in Sydney, despite usually not arriving with the strongest credentials among the elite runners. Satoru Sasaki was third in the always-strong Fukuoka marathon in 2015 in his PB 2:08:56 and finished eighth there last year in 2:11:40. He and younger compatriot Ryo Kuchimachi – 2:13:30 in Tokyo this year – will bear watching.
Kenyan duo Stellah Barsosio and Josephine Chepkoech head the elite athletes in the women’s field.
Each comes with strong recent form. Barsosio was second in this year’s Rotterdam marathon in her fastest career performance of 2:23:36. The 26-year-old was fifth in Paris the previous year and also boasts a half-marathon best of 1:09:31.
Chepkoech, 30, is a little faster than her compatriot over the half distance, with a best of 1:08:53. That dates back to 2013, however, but her 2:25:20 performance in the Barcelona marathon earlier this year suggests she remains a strong contender.
Harun Haji holds the race record set in 2017, the second time in succession she triumped in Sydney. In both victories, she broke away in Centennial Park significantly before the half-way point where the tree cover and bends in the road make it relatively easy to “disappear” from the chasers. She does not have compelling domestic form coming into the race, but it will be interesting to see whether she, or any of her rivals, adopt similar tactics.
Ethiopian pair Hirut Alemayehu and Gebeyanesh Ayele will also be in the hunt. Ayele has a personal best of 2:26:54 from Hengshui just one year ago, while Alemayehu’s best is 2:30:09. Both have half-marathon bests of just over 70 minutes, so need to be respected.
Tejita Daba, Bahrain, and Bornes Kitur, third in Osaka this year and with a 2:24:19 PB from Prague last year, are also more than capable of winning in a very even women’s field.
The marathon, and other events in the Running Festival, will be telecast live on Network Ten with commentary from Ian Cohen, Steve Moneghetti and Steve Ovett, and shown online on the Sydney Running Festival Facebook page.
Len Johnson for the IAAF