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Gidey makes marathon debut as strong fields get set for Valencia

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Letesenbet Gidey in action in Valencia (© NN Running Team)

Letesenbet Gidey and Tamirat Tola head another mouth-watering line-up for the Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso EDP, a World Athletics Elite Platinum Label event, on Sunday (4).

Valencia has witnessed a number of world records in recent years – in the women’s 5000m and half marathon as well as the men’s 10km and 10,000m – and organisers aim for city to be the epicentre of the running world again this weekend.

Can Gidey threaten the world record on her debut?

Ethiopia’s Gidey will be making her marathon debut one year after smashing the world half marathon record with a beamonesque time of 1:02:52.

The 24-year-old is also the world record-holder for the 5000m and 10,000m on the track and her first goal on Sunday should be to run the quickest ever women’s marathon for a debutant, a feat which currently belongs to her fellow Ethiopian Almaz Ayana courtesy of her 2:17:20 in Amsterdam in October.

Gidey’s training sessions are said to have gone very well over the past few months, so a serious attack on Brigid Kosgei’s world record of 2:14:04 can’t be ruled out. The Ethiopian star will be paced by a trio of male pacesetters, her compatriots Mebrahtu Werkineh and Getachew Niguse, plus Kenya’s Bernard Soi.

“I think I can do the world record,” said a confident Gidey at the event press conference held on Friday (2). “I have competed twice in Valencia and I was lucky to set respective world records on both occasions so let’s hope on Sunday I can do it again”.

In addition to Gidey’s eye-catching debut, the line-up includes her fellow Ethiopians Sutume Kebede, Etagegne Woldu and Tigist Girma. The former is the fastest of the entrants after her 2:18:12 runner-up place in Seoul in April, although the 27-year-old had to settle for eighth in London in 2:20:44 a couple of months ago. As for Woldu, she is the defending champion in Valencia (PB 2:20:16) but has had a lacklustre 2022, while Girma is a 2:19:52 contender who clocked 2:25:10 on her last outing in Sydney in September.

Yet Gidey’s biggest challenger might well be another debutant, Kenya’s Sheila Chepkirui. The 31-year-old seems to be in the form of her life having lowered her half marathon PB in Ras Al Khaimah in February to 1:04:36, to elevate her to seventh place on the world all-time list. Chepkirui backed up that brilliant performance with a win in Berlin six weeks later thanks to a 1:05:02 run.

Men's course record is the goal

The men’s event is also shaping up well as the cast includes 10 athletes who have run 2:05:30 or faster throughout their careers. The list is topped by Ethiopia’s Getaneh Molla, who ran 2:03:34 in Dubai in 2019, closely followed by the reigning world marathon champion Tola (2:03:39). 

Ethiopia's Tola kicked off his 2022 campaign with a 2:04:14 third-place finish in Tokyo in March and went on to claim the world title in Oregon in 2:05:36, the fifth-quickest performance of his career. Sunday’s race will be Tola’s second appearance following Oregon, after a 59:49 half marathon win in Trento in early October.

The Ethiopian contingent is particularly powerful as it also features Dawit Wolde, who managed a lifetime best of 2:04:27 in Rotterdam last year, although has failed to finish his two races this year. Chalu Deso, whose PB of 2:04:53 dates back to Valencia in 2020, set a winning 2:05:07 season’s best in Paris in April, while Workineh Tadese, third in Hamburg this year, has a PB of 2:05:07. Watch out too for Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay, the World Championships seventh-place finisher and holder of a 2:04:55 lifetime best set in Milan last year.

Like in the women’s race, there will be a number of much-awaited debuts. The Kenyan trio of Alexander Mutiso, Kelvin Kiptum and Philemon Kiplimo race the marathon for the first time, as does Ethiopia’s Milkesa Mengesha. The 26-year-old Japan-based Mutiso ran a scintillating 57:59 – the fifth-fastest ever time – in Valencia two years ago and has also shown fine form this year with a 10km PB of 27:35 and a 58:48 half marathon effort in Ras Al Khaimah. Kiptum boasts a 58:42 time for the 13.1-mile distance and Kiplimo is another in the all-time top 10 for the distance courtesy of his 58:11 in Valencia in 2020.

Yet the most in-form debutant seems to be 22-year-old Mengesha, as he grabbed a 58:58 win in Copenhagen last September after setting a 10,000m career best of 27:00.24 in Hengelo on 5 June.

A trio of pacemakers comprising Kenyans Bernard Ngeno and Stanley Kurgat Rono plus Ethiopia’s Chala Regasa will target a steady 2:55 pace to go through the half marathon in 1:01:30, on schedule to break the course record of 2:03:00 set two years ago by Kenya’s Evans Chebet.

A total of 30,000 runners are set to take part in the event, 50% of them travelling from abroad and representing 124 countries. The weather forecast predicts a nice and windless day, with the thermometer reaching 10-12°C by the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics