Singapore Marathon Preview - Mekonnen and Birir among the field
It’s styled as the Greatest Race on Earth, but it’s certainly one of the toughest. Sunday morning’s Singapore Marathon is the second in a four-race series sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank, which began in Nairobi a month ago, and culminates in Mumbai and Hong Kong in the New Year. That’s to say, one race at altitude, and three in the sort of heat and humidity that usually send Singapore residents and tourists alike scurrying for the air-conditioned shopping malls.
But four years of bringing elite marathoners to the island-nation have persuaded over six thousand Singaporeans and ex-pats out onto the streets to trot along behind such luminaries as 1992 Olympic steeplechase champion, Matthew Birir of Kenya, and one-time world leader in the marathon, Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia.
That pair may have seen better days, but defending champions, Kenyans Philip Tanui and Helen Cherono face the best fields ever assembled here in Singapore. There are ten men who have beaten 2:10 hours, and eight woman who have bettered 2:30 hours.
Tanui was drawn into distance running by the example of his elder brother, Moses, winner of the 1991 world 10,000 metres title, and subsequently one of the world’s leading marathoners. Moses is now retired, persuaded perhaps by Philip’s marathon debut, victory in Rome 1999, in 2.07.54. Although he’s had a hard time reproducing that form, the younger Tanui won a tight struggle here last year, only getting away from previous year’s winner, compatriot John Kelai in the last two kilometres.
Conditions this year promise to be cooler than for former marathons, but that still means around 20C (68F) at the 6am start, and over 80% humidity. “I would welcome cooler conditions,” said Tanui today (Friday), “I was very surprised by the humidity last year. It’s a much better field this year, but I know the course”.
Kelai is back again, but Tanui’s principal rival is yet another Kenyan with a fast time to his name. Joseph Ngolepus ran 2.07.57 in finishing third in London 2003. But it took the reigning and future Olympic champion, Abera of Ethiopia and Baldini of Italy to beat him. Ngolepus won another top marathon, Berlin in 2001, and also his previous outing this year, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego in 2.11.04. “That was also hot and humid,” said Ngolepus, “but I think this is tougher”. Ngolepus is in the same training group as former women’s world record holder, Tegla Loroupe and winner of London and New York, Joyce Chepchumba, who is the leading woman here in Singapore.
But Chepchumba will need all her guile to fend off compatriot, Helen Cherono who won here last year, Gigi Roba of Ethiopia, who ran 2.26.05 in Paris last year, and 19 year old Chinese, Wang Xiaoshu, all of whom are ten years and more younger than Chepchumba, though she will have the consolation of competing with another veteran, who also won London, Malgorzata Sobanska of Poland.
Including half-marathon and 10k, there are over 21,000 entries this year.
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