Filomena Chepchirchir, Mercy Kibarus, Askale Adula and Bornes Kitur ahead of the Sydney Marathon (© Organisers / Victah Sailer)
The past two editions of the Blackmores Sydney Marathon have seen the form charts overturned. Recent results of the IAAF Gold Label road race suggests that in looking for likely winners of this year’s race, to be held on Sunday (17), you would be best advised to look for a ‘smokey’.
Followers of Australia’s iconic handicap sprint race, the Stawell Gift, will be familiar with the term ‘smokey’. In Australian vernacular, ‘a smokey’ is a competitor – usually a racehorse but, in the case of Stawell, obviously a runner – whose improved form has not been evident prior to the race. Frequently, there is a wager or two involved.
Japan will be going for a hat-trick of wins in the men’s race following victories in 2015 to Hisanori Kitajima and last year to Tomohiro Tanigawa. Both beat a slew of more favoured rivals in taking victory after taking control late in the race.
That augurs well for the elite Japanese entrants on Sunday, nominally led by 2:09:12 performer Tomoyuki Morita but also featuring several solid track distance performers with developing marathon potential who no doubt with an eye towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
There was an Australian win of sorts in last year’s women’s race in which Makda Harun led from start to finish. Harun, who has a personal best of 2:26:46, is Ethiopian but is now resident in Australia. Just like Kenya’s Mirriam Wangari the previous year, Harun ran away from the favourites on her way to victory.
Harun is back to defend her title this year but the race is certain to crown a new male champion as Tanigawa is not back to defend.
Looking at more recent marathon form, the most impressive performers in the men’s line-up are Sammy Kigen Korir, Allan Kiprono and Werkunesh Seyoum. All three have run faster than 2:10 in 2017, with Seyoum the quickest at 2:09:27 in Rome. Kiprono has winning form, running 2:09:52 to win in Hannover and Korir ran 2:09:39 for second place in Rabat.
Seyoum broke through from a previous best of 2:12:53 in placing fifth in Rome while Korir and Kiprono have been consistent about and under 2:10 for the past three years.
Young Eritrean Mogos Shumay, 20 this year, made his marathon debut in Sydney last year, building a big early lead before being reined in. He ran 2:16:25 then, but sub-28-minute times for 10,000m both on track and road suggest he is capable of something better.
Morita ran his 2:09:12 in 2012, but his best since then is some two-and-a-half minutes slower. Hopes for a third Japanese win in succession may better lie with others. Shota Hattori ran 2:14:19 on his debut in Nobeoka earlier this year and has several sub-28:30 performances at 10,000m. Tsukasa Koyama and Ryuma Takeuchi have similar backgrounds. One or more of them could break through.
China’s Xu Wang finished 24th in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 and Ian Burrell of the USA was a place behind and has a personal best of 2:13:26.
Several women look to have the credentials and form to challenge the race record of 2:29:42 set by Biruktayit Eshetu in 2014.
Filomena Chepchirchir is fastest in the field with a personal best of 2:23:00. That was in Frankfurt in 2013 and she ran 2:24 in both 2011 and 2012. She has no marathon performance since 2014, but has twice run 1:10 for the half marathon this year.
Fastest on current times is another Kenyan, Mercy Kibarus with a 2:26:52 in placing third in Seoul earlier in the year. Kibarus was fifth at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen and looks one of the top contenders for Sydney honours.
Ethiopian pair Meseret Kitata and Askale Alemaheyu bring personal bests of 2:27:17 and 2:29:01 to the race, while a third Kenyan runner, Bornes Jepkirui Kitur, won in Mumbai this year in 2:29:01.
Etaferahu Wodaj has run 32:17 for a road 10km this year but, like Kitata, her marathon best – 2:29:24 in Ottawa – goes back to 2015.
Sydney has experienced some of its hottest spring weather in history, with the temperature peaking at 33C on Wednesday and some early season bushfires, but a cool change has come in and race day is expected to bring a top temperature of 17C.
The race records were set in 2014, 2:11:18 by Gebo Burka and 2:29:42 by Biruktayit Eshetu, both of Ethiopia.
Upwards of 33,000 participants are expected in the marathon and associated events which make up the Sydney Running Festival. The race will be broadcast live on Australia’s Ten network with a live feed going into Japan via Fuji TV, China through CCTV and to 43 other countries via Eurosport Asia.
Len Johnson for the IAAF