Habtamu Assefa winning the Hawassa Half (© Organisers)
Last year’s winners may not be returning to the 2015 Rome Marathon, but Habtamu Assefa and Meseret Kitata will aim to keep both titles with Ethiopia at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on 22 March.
Twelve months ago, Ethiopian duo Shume Hailu and Ayelu Lemma won both races in the Italian capital; the third time in the race’s history that both titles were won by Ethiopian athletes. This year, Assefa and Kitata will be looking to make it a fourth.
Assefa, who represented Ethiopia at the 2012 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, has a personal best of 2:08:28, set at the 2013 Dubai Marathon.
Kenya’s 37-year-old John Komen has the fastest PB of the entire field, but his 2:07:13 was achieved four years ago. In his most recent marathon, he clocked 2:14:27 to finish second in La Rochelle.
Similarly, Teshome Gelana’s best of 2:07:37 dates back several years and he hasn’t run faster than 2:10 since September 2010. But the former Houston winner is consistent and earlier this year finished second in Tiberias in 2:12:33.
Also in the field – and perhaps the favourite – is Morocco’s Mustapha El Aziz. The African 10,000m silver medallist has only contested two marathons to date, but in his last outing he clocked a promising 2:07:55.
Another in-form athlete is Ukraine’s Oleksandr Sitkovskyy, who earlier this year clocked a PB of 2:09:11. The 36-year-old finished 12th at the 2012 Olympics and is a former winner in Florence, La Rochelle and Ljubljana.
Kenya’s Peter Kurui could also be one to watch. The 25-year-old has a PB of 2:08:56, set on Italian soil in Turin in 2011.
Ethiopia's Berhanu Addissie ran his first marathon last October, clocking 2:10:20. The 19-year-old came within two minutes of that time in Dubai earlier this year but will be aiming to go quicker in Rome.
The only athlete in the field who knows what it’s like to win in Rome is Italy’s Ruggero Pertile, the 2004 winner. Now 40, Pertile is still competitive and finished seventh at the 2014 European Championships.
Compatriot Jamel Chatbi will be making his marathon debut in Rome.
The women’s field is just as competitive as the men’s. Ethiopia’s Kitata will be looking to bounce back from her 2:34:26 clocking in Dubai earlier this year. Aside from that race, she has finished in the top two in her three other marathons to date and has a PB of 2:27:26, set last year.
Olena Burkovska is the fastest in the field. The Ukrainian’s PB of 2:27:07 was set when winning the 2013 Hannover Marathon, but she hasn’t run faster than 2:31 in her two marathons since then.
Belarusian Olympian Nastassia Ivanova will be aiming for her first marathon victory. Her best of 2:27:24 was set when finishing second in Dusseldorf three years ago.
As is the case in the men’s race, Italian hopes rest with a veteran. 37-year-old Deborah Toniolo will be making her Rome Marathon debut. Her PB of 2:28:31 was set nine years ago, but as recently as last year she clocked 2:31:35 to finish third in Turin.
Ethiopia’s Alem Mokonnin is something of an unknown quantity as this will be just her fourth marathon. The 20-year-old, who finished 11th in the junior race at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, has a PB of 2:31:20 set last year in Dubai.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
Elite field (with PBs)
John Komen (KEN) 2:07:17
Teshome Gelana (ETH) 2:07:37
Mustapha El Aziz (MAR) 2:07:55
Habtamu Assefa (ETH) 2:08:28
Peter Kurui (KEN) 2:08:56
Oleksandr Sitkovskyy (UKR) 2:09:11
Ruggero Pertile (ITA) 2:09:53
Berhanu Addissie (ETH) 2:10:20
Jamel Chatbi (ITA) debut
Olena Burkovska (UKR) 2:27:07
Nastassia Ivanova (BLR) 2:27:24
Meseret Kitata (ETH) 2:27:26
Deborah Toniolo (ITA) 2:28:31
Alem Mokonnin (ETH) 2:31:20