Debutant Cheptegei takes on Bekele and Kandie, Ayana faces Dibaba in Valencia

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The 2023 Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso – a World Athletics Elite Platinum Label event – features arguably the year’s finest field.

Valencia has witnessed a number of world records in recent years, and organisers aim for the Spanish coastal city to be the epicentre of the running world again on Sunday (3).

Olympic 5000m champion Joshua Cheptegei will attract much of the attention on Sunday as the Ugandan will be making his first appearance over the classic distance.

The 27-year-old, who is the world record-holder for the 5000m and 10,000m, has fond memories of Valencia as it is where he set a world 10km record of 26:38 in 2019 and the still standing world 10,000m record of 26:11.00 the following year.

The marathon is a new challenge for me,” said three-time world 10,000m champion Cheptegei, who has a half marathon PB of 59:21. “After 10 years competing at an international level, I’m thrilled to tackle the longest Olympic distance. The marathon is something new for me and I’m fully aware there is a lot to learn.

In one of his final sessions before heading to Valencia, Cheptegei reportedly ran a 28km long run timed at 1:25 – an average pace of 3:02/km.

Favourites for Valencia Marathon

If recent form and experience is anything to go by, Kenyan duo Kibiwott Kandie and Alexander Mutiso will start among the favourites.

Kandie displayed impressive form six weeks ago when achieving his third victory at the Valencia Half Marathon, beating a highly competitive field in 57:40, just nine seconds short of his own world record, set three years prior in Valencia.

He has had two prior outings at the marathon distance, but is yet to make his mark; he hopes that Sunday’s race will be third time lucky.

Japan-based Mutiso made a remarkable marathon debut in Valencia last year, placing third in 2:03:29. Valencia is where he also set his half marathon PB of 57:59 in 2020. The 27-year-old won the Prague Marathon earlier this year in 2:05:09.

Titus Kipruto, who has a PB of 2:04:54 and finished eighth at the World Championships in Budapest, will join his Kenyan compatriots on the start line.

Ethiopian contingent

A strong Ethiopian contingent is led by the legendary Kenenisa Bekele. The 41-year-old still ranks third on the world all-time list with his 2:01:41 clocking from the 2019 Berlin Marathon. The multiple world and Olympic champion failed to finish the London Marathon earlier this year, so will try to bounce back on Sunday in what will be his first ever clash against Cheptegei, the man who broke Bekele’s world records on the track.

The former 5000m and 10,000m world record-holder will be joined by his compatriots Leul Gebreselassie, Sisay Lemma, Dawit Wolde and Chalu Deso; the former, winner here in 2018, is the current world bronze medallist and took fourth in London (2:05:45) while Lemma finished runner-up in Prague (2:06:26) but clocked 2:03:36 back in 2019.

Wolde is a 2:04:27 athlete with a season’s best of 2:05:46 in Rotterdam, while Deso has also broken the 2:05 barrier.

Watch out too for Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay and Brazil’s Daniel Do Nascimento. Geay was runner-up in Valencia last year with a PB of 2:03:00, then placed second in Boston earlier this year in 2:06:04. The 27-year-old also finished seventh at the 2022 World Championships, just ahead of Do Nascimento, a 2:04:51 performer.

French duo Morhad Amdouni (2:05:22) and Nico Navarro (2:06:45), Germany’s European champion Richard Ringer (2:08:08) plus Spain’s Tariku Novales (2:07:18) will be aiming to improve on their respective PBs.

A trio of pacemakers comprising Charles Matata, Hillary Kipkoech and Bernard Ngeno will dictate a steady 2:54 pace to go through the half-way point in 1:01 in a bid to challenge the course record of 2:01:53 set last year by world record-holder Kelvin Kiptum.

Ayana the woman to beat

Ethiopia’s 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana made her marathon debut in Amsterdam last year with 2:17:20, what was then the fastest debut in history.

This year, the 32-year-old placed seventh in London in 2:20:44, but had won the Lisbon Half Marathon one month earlier in a PB of 1:05:30.

On Sunday she’ll line up alongside compatriots Genzebe Dibaba, Worknesh Degefa, Hiwot Gebrekidan and Bosena Mulatie.

Dibaba, the former 1500m star, also made a promising marathon debut in Amsterdam last year, clocking 2:18:05, but she failed to finish in London this year before placing sixth (2:21:47) in Chicago at the start of October.

Degefa, a 2:17:41 performer, didn’t compete in 2021 and 2022 as she became a mother twice but she made a strong return in October with a 1:07:48 win at the Trento Half Marathon. Gebrekidan set her PB of 2:19:10 at the Tokyo Marathon last year, and placed eighth in Boston earlier this year, while 22-year-old Mulatie will be tackling the distance for the first time, having set a half marathon PB of 1:05:46.

Kenyan entrants

Celestine Chepchirchir, who ran 2:20:10 in Seoul last year, and Seville Marathon winner Jackline Chelal, who has a PB of 2:20:29, are the leading Kenyan entrants for this year’s race.

Poland’s European champion Aleksandra Lisowska, Spain’s Majida Maayouf (2:21:01) Croatia’s Bojana Bjeljac (2:23:39), Italy’s Sofiia Yaremchuk (2:24:02) and Ireland’s Fiounnala Mc Cormack are among the other leading international entrants.

Ethiopia’s Abebe Garedew, Kenya’s Titus Kemboi and Spain’s Alejandro Jiménez have been enlisted as pacemakers and will try to reach the halfway point in 1:07:30, putting the leading women on schedule to threaten Amane Beriso’s course record of 2:14:58, set last year.

A total of 33,000 runners are set to take part in the event, 57% of them travelling from abroad and represent a record 134 countries. The weather forecast predicts a windless day, with the thermometer reaching 10-12C by the time of the event.

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