Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea winning the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon
Reigning champions Letebrhan Haylay and Husen Muhammedahin Esmael will return to the Chinese city of Dongying to defend their titles at the 2018 Yellow River Estuary International Marathon on Saturday (5). But the Ethiopian duo will face fierce challenge as the organisers of the IAAF Gold Label road race have assembled high quality fields in both races.
The 27-year-old Haylay staged a strong performance last year in her first appearance in the eastern Chinese coastal city as she enjoyed a comfortable solo run in the last 10 kilometres of the race to notch the victory in 2:25:01.
She improved her personal best by 23 seconds and also cut nearly three and a half minutes off the course record of 2:28:27 set by compatriot Mestawet Tufa in 2014. Haylay came close to that mark last November when she clocked 2:25:14 to finish third at the Istanbul Marathon.
Haylay will once again face Kenya’s Chemtai Rionotukei, the runner-up of last year who also bettered her PB by more than eight minutes with a 2:26:30 clocking.
The 31-year-old Kenyan went on to set a course record of 2:29:36 at the Taiyang Marathon four month later and opened the 2018 season with a second finish at the Taipei Wan Jin Shi Marathon in March.
However, Haylay’s biggest threat on her way to defend the title should be countrywoman Yebrgual Melese. The 28-year-old Melese improved her career best by 3:15 to 2:19:36 as she took the third place at the Dubai Marathon in January, which marked the fourth fastest time on the world list this year.
The in-form Ethiopian has a good reputation in terms of consistency, achieving sub-2:25 times in eight of the her nine races since 2015. It will be the first marathon race in China for Melese, former winner in Houston and Prague, although she ran three half marathon races in China from 2012 to 2013 and managed to gain a podium finish on each occasion including a victory at the 2013 Wuzhong Half Marathon.
Kenya’s Caroline Cheptanui Kilel is the second fastest entrant on paper with a PB of 2:22:34 from her victory at the 2013 Frankfurt Marathon. The 37-year-old veteran also has victories in Boston, Daegu, Taipei and Danzhou to her name, but has been experiencing a two-year title drought after the triumph in Daegu in April, 2016.
Esmael outraced former winner Dickson Kipsang Tuwei to grab his surprise victory in 2:14:19 last year, which marked his first career title since debuting over the classic distance in 2016.
The 24-year-old further improved his PB to 2:13:15 from his sixth finish in Mumbai this January. But still, retaining the title could be a tough mission for him in front of a deep field that contains a clutch of sub-2:10 runners.
Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola is arguably the biggest name in the field. The bronze medallist at the 2013 World Championships boasts a fast PB of 2:04:49 from his third place finish at the Dubai Marathon in the same year.
His winning mark of 2:07:16 at the 2013 Beijing Marathon still stands as the course record. And he also clocked 2:05:57 to finish second in Tokyo in February 2014 and won the Warsaw Marathon two months later in 2:06:05, the last sub-2:10 performance he achieved ever since.
Like Tola, the 35-year-old Sisay Jisa also needs to prove his worth in spite of a fast lifetime best of 2:06:27 that dates back to 2012. The Ethiopian’s most recent performance is a fourth place finish of 2:08:09 in Dubai last January, but is yet to finish any marathon race ever since.
Kenya’s Samuel Kiplimo Kosgei, meanwhile, is much more consistent. The 32-year-old managed to break the 2:10 barrier each year in the past four including a PB of 2:06:53 in Dubai two years ago. He clocked 1:01:23 to finish third at the Azkoitia-Azpeitia Half Marathon in March and Saturday’s race will be his first marathon of the season.
The field also include Stephen Mokoka, another runner known for his stability and efficiency. The South African is a record four-time winner from his six appearances at the Shanghai International Marathon and it will be his first race in Dongying.
As in the past editions of the race when runners were often hampered by blazing sun and heat, the weather conditions on Saturday could be rough too, with the forecast suggesting that the temperature can rise to as high as 32C during the race.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF