In the midst of celebrating his victory in the Athens Classic Marathon 2012, where he set an event record of 2:11:35, Raymond Bett didn’t hesitate to state his objective for a return visit: his sights would be set on the course record. Next week the Kenyan will race on the course which has been the inspiration to so many marathon dreams, following the legendary route from the town of Marathon over the hills into Athens. The sense of following in historic footsteps continues right through to the finish line, set in the Panathenaikon Stadium, where the 1896 Olympic Marathon also reached its climax. The course is tough and records achieved are few and far between, but it offers plenty of excitement and history. For a true marathon runner, this is one you absolutely have to run. A record number of more than 11,000 athletes will assemble at the starting line on 10th November for the 31st edition of the Athens Classic Marathon. Adding runners who will compete at shorter distances, over 30,000 are expected to take part in the event.
Raymond Bett seems to be made to measure for the demanding Athens course. In 2010 he won with an event record of 2:12:40 the first marathon title of his career. Two years later he returned for victory number two – both in Athens and in his career – and another event record. He believes this accumulated experience will stand him in good stead when he challenges the course record. It currently stands at 2:10:55, set by the Italian Stefano Baldini in winning the Olympic title in 2004.
The omens are good: in the spring Raymond Bett ran a personal best in Duesseldorf, where he finished seventh with 2:10:50. Concentrating on his marathon preparations, he hasn’t raced since. The imminent challenge of his third Athens Classic Marathon looks to be his toughest yet, given that the field is stronger than ever before. His fellow-Kenyan Mariko Kipchumba is the fastest runner in the field with a personal best almost five minutes faster than Bett’s. A year ago Kipchumba took the Reims Marathon in 2:06:05.
Among a group of strong African runners there are Paul Kosgei and Bellor Yator. Kosgei knows the course well, having finished runner-up in 2012. His time of 2:12:20 was also inside the old event record, proving he can handle such an undulating course. Bellor Yator is another to watch since the 29 year-old has run sub 2:10 on three occasions. A year ago he was fifth in Kosice with a PB of 2:08:39. He has also won the Duesseldorf Marathon in consecutive years, beginning in 2007.
The women’s field is also much more competitive than in recent years. Gishu Mindaye Tilahun has the fastest time going into the race. The 27 year-old Ethiopian clocked 2:28:30 when she won the Rotterdam Marathon in 2006, the outstanding performance of her career so far. Japan, where the marathon is held in such high regard, supplies one of her rivals in the shape of Iwamura Seika. Japanese women have a fine record in the marathon in Athens. Her personal best of 2:33:15 was set when finishing tenth in Osaka in 2010. Bayush Abebe Shferaw improved her marathon PB by more than six minutes when she clocked 2:36:16 for seventh in the Milan Marathon earlier this year. A European challenge may come from Svitlana Stanko, the Ukrainian marathon champion, whose best of 2:31:28 was achieved in winning the Warsaw title in 2011.
Two days before the Athens Classic Marathon, the inaugural AIMS Best Marathon Runner of the Year award will be presented to a male and female athlete in Athens. Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) and Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) as well as Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo (both Kenya) are the candidates for the prize.