Eliud Kiptanui and Celestine Chepchirchir of Kenya will put their best foot forward to add the Guangzhou marathon title to their great collection on Sunday.
"I still have a lot to learn. Guangzhou will be my third race and I am looking forward to taking on my opponents. I want to focus on fast time and see who will try to catch up," said Chepchirchir on Friday in Nairobi. The Guangzhou marathon, which has been promoted to a World Athletics Gold Label road race, has attracted a horde of Kenyan runners, who hope to post fast time with eyes cast on the quest for Olympic tickets to Tokyo Games in 2020.
Chepchirchir, 23, is making her debut on the Chinese soil and is happy for the adventure.
Chepchirchir boasts the second-fastest time in the line-up as she knocked more than two minutes off her best time to finish third in Seoul in 2:24:48 nine months ago and went on to set a course record of 2:26:44 at the Cape Town Marathon in September.
Up to challenge Chepchirchir will be Ethiopia's Mulu Seboka, who will compete in her fifth marathon of the year and holds a fast personal best at 2:21:56 set in Dubai four years ago. The 35-year-old competed in the southern Chinese city in 2016 and finished second in 2:32:26.
Seboka, a past Dubai Marathon, has a season's best of 2:27:19 from her four marathons. She will obviously not be running with fresh legs in Guangzhou as her last race was just one week ago in Kunming, where she scored a 2:32:54 victory.
Other top runners to watch out for will be two-time Daegu Marathon winner Pamela Rotich of Kenya who has a best time of 2:27:48, Ethiopia's Hiwot Gebrekidan, who set a winning mark of 2:25:45 in See Genezareth two years ago, as well as Chinese duo Ding Changqin and He Yinli.
Kiptanui, 30, will lead the men's team from Kenya. With a best time of 2:05:21, which he posted in Berlin marathon four years ago, he has almost managed to run under two hours and 10 minutes every year since 2014.
But the past winner in Ottawa and Prague has yet to break that barrier in 2019 as he only clocked a mediocre 2:14:15 to finish seventh in Xiamen in January and failed to finish in Taiyuan three months ago.
"Returning to China makes me happy because I love running there. They have challenging courses and many fans. But the focus should be on my rivals. I want to surprise them because I feel stronger now," said Kiptanui.
Kenya will also have Mike Kiptum, who took more than three minutes off his career best to finish third at Seoul Marathon in 2:06:22 in March.
The 27-year-old would be another serious candidate not only to win the title but also to rewrite the 2:10:01 course record set by Morocco's Abdellah Tagharrafet in 2015.
The powerful Kenyan contingent also includes Felix Kirwa, whose best time of 2:06:13 was set in Eindhoven two years ago, and 31-year-old Josphat Letting, winner of the Tallinn Marathon in September. Ethiopia's Gebretsadik Abraha could be the biggest threat to the Kenyans.