Stacked Fields Set To Rock Lisbon

Elite athletes at Rock 'n' Roll Lisbon met with the press on Friday. Photo: www.photorun.net

The Portugese all-comer’s record in the men’s and women’s marathons could go down this weekend. 

Despite the storied history of road racing in Portugal, the fastest marathons ever run in the country are 2:09:51 for the men and 2:28:02 for the women. Both of those records appear to be in jeopardy on Sunday at the first ever EDP Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Marathon and Vodafone Half Marathon.

Both the inaugural marathon and half marathon, which has carried the IAAF Gold Label Race designation, will feature quality elite fields. With the inclusion of a mini-marathon, the races have combined to attract more than 22,500 entrants.

PHOTOS: Elites Meet The Press In Lisbon

“The marathon times we have in Lisbon are not great times and I expect that the athletes will be able to compete well and beat them. It’s a beautiful, beautiful course from Cascais to Lisbon along the oceanfront,” said Carlos Móia, President of the Maratona Clube de Portugal. “It’s a very flat route and we should see nice times for professionals and amateurs . This is the first year, but I think in the future with runners getting fast times on Sunday combined with a beautiful experience in Lisbon, the race is sure to grow.”

Ethiopians Dadi Yami and Deribe Merga lead the marathon field with personal bests of 2:05:41 and 2:06:38, respectively. Merga was the 2009 Boston Marathon champion and finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic Marathon, but hasn’t completed a marathon in over two years.

“This is my first race in Lisbon and I can see the competition will be tough,” said Merga, speaking today at a press conference in Lisbon. “The last two years have not been good to me, as my knee has been injured, but now I’m healthy. The weather will be warm Sunday, but I’m trying for the win.”

Kenya’s Elijah Keitany, who finished sixth at the Seoul Marathon earlier this year, will join Yami and Merga on the starting line, boasting a 2:06:51 personal best. The other leading marathon contenders include Kenyans John Kiprotich, 24, (2:07:08) and Laban Mutai, 23, (2:08:01) and Sergey Lebid, 38, of Ukraine, who is making his marathon debut. Lebid has 9 European gold medals and holds 6 national records ranging between 3000m and 10K.

The women’s marathon field is led by Kenyans Helena and Agnes Kiprop, with personal bests of 2:23:37 and 2:23:43, respectively. Their top challengers both won marathons with personal bests this year, however, as Ethiopian Melkam Gizaw won the Dusseldorf Marathon in 2:26:24 in April, and Olena Burkovski of the Ukraine was the winner of this year’s Hannover Marathon in 2:27:07.

“I first saw this course in March with Carlos Móia and it truly is spectacular,” said Matthew Turnbull, who assisted with recruiting the elite field for the marathon. “If the athletes compete to their fullest potential we could see some very quick times. The fastest time ever run in Portugal is 2:09 for the men and 2:28 for the women and hopefully those marks will go. I don’t know by how much, but let’s hope for the best and some good racing.”

A star-studded half-marathon field includes four men who have run under 60:00, headlined by the 2011 world cross country champion Imane Merga of Ethiopia and Kenya’s Wilson Kiprop, who won the 2010 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. They’ll be joined on the starting line by countrymen Tariku Bekele, the 2012 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist, and Ibrahim Jeilan, the 2011 world champion for 10,000 meters, who will look to complete his first half marathon in preparation for his marathon debut next year.

“My future schedule is running the marathon next year, but first I need to try to compete at a half-marathon,” said Jeilan. “There is a difference between road race training and track training with less speed work and longer runs. I’m ready for Sunday and I feel good. I will be happy if I can finish under 60:00, but my plan is to at least run under 63 minutes.”

Headlining the women’s half marathon are Valeria Straneo of Italy, the 2013 world championships marathon silver medalist, and 2011 New York City Marathon winner Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia. The other leading contenders are Kenyans Philes Ongori and Lydia Cheromei, Italian Nadia Ejjafini, Ethiopia’s Worknesh Debele and 2013 Paris Marathon winner Feysa Tadesse, along with hometown favorites Ana Dulce Felix, the 2012 European Athletics Championships 10,000m champion, and Jessica Augusto of Portugal.

The two Lisbon events will feature separate courses, with the half marathon starting at Vasco da Gama Bridge and the full marathon beginning in the beach city of Cascais. After touring the city of Lisbon, the flat and fast courses will unite and finish at Parque das Nações, where the 1998 World Exposition took place. The race also includes a shorter distance Mini Marathon sponsored by EDP, which starts and finishes at the same location as the half marathon and allows for wider participation.

The marathon course starts outside of Lisbon and runs 13 miles down the coast. Spectacular vistas await runners as the musically themed 26.2-mile course weaves along the River Tagus and past Lisbon’s historic landmarks, rich architecture, spectacular churches, and numerous cultural attractions. Live bands and cheering spectators will line both race courses, concluding with a celebratory finish line festival and concert headlined by four major acts.

The race will be broadcast live on RTP television beginning at 10 AM local time/5:00 AM EST. Spectators can tune in around the globe to watch at http://www.rtp.pt/play/direto/rtp1.

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