Sunday's Paris Marathon, the fifth-largest in the world in 2008 in terms of finishers, features a sizable prize money purse and top athletes, including several promising debutants at the distance. Race winners will earn 50,000 euros as long as they run sufficiently fast times.
Athletes from Kenya are set to dominate the men's race, including 2008 Bank of America Chicago Marathon runner-up David Kipkorir Mandago (2:07:23 PB). His key rivals will be compatriots Boniface Usisivu (2:07:50), David Kiyeng (2:07:53), Shadrack Kiplagat (2:07:53), and Philip Singoei (2:07:57). But the man who will wear #1 will be Frenchman Driss El Himer, who owns the fastest marathon time in the field: 2:06:48. However, El Himer, seven times the French national cross country champion, hasn't run that fast since 2003. His best time in the last two years was 2:12:08 set at Rotterdam last year.
Interestingly, two very strong men will be making their marathon debuts. Rwanda's best distance runner, Dieudonné Disi, should be a contender for the podium. Sixth at last year's IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships, Disi has a half-marathon personal best of 59:32. Working as a pacemaker at last year's Flora London Marathon, Disi made it to 27 km, rolling along comfortably at a 2:05 marathon pace. Kenyan Francis Kibiwott, who has a half-marathon best of 59:26, is also running his first marathon.
On the women's side, last year's Paris runner-up, Worknesh Tola of Ethiopia, is the top seasoned marathoner with a 2:25:37 career best. She should get her best challenge from Japan-based Kenyan Julia Mombi, who's 2:26:00 marathon personal best may seem relatively modest, but she's run a very fast 1:08:31 for half that distance. Ethiopian Eyerusalem Kuma (2:26:51), Russian Natalya Volgina (2:27:32) and Frenchwoman Christelle Daunay (2:28:22 NR) are the other top athletes.
One debutante, however, could surpass all of these women. Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia, second at the recent RAK Half-Marathon in the United Arab Emirates last February, has a half-marathon best of 1:07:48. Moreover, she was the 2008 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships silver medalist.
The Paris race has an unusual prize money structure. In order for the athletes to receive the full prize money available for each of the top-10 finish places, men must break 2:11:45 and women must break 2:23:15. At the 2008 edition of the race, 16 men broke the required standard, and all collected the full prize money. However, no women broke the required female standard and saw their prize money cut in half. The first place award is 50,000 euros (about USD 66,500), with 30,000 going for second and 20,000 going to third.
Helping the athletes to collect full paydays will be the fast and scenic one-loop course which begins and ends near the Arc de Triomphe and takes in many of the city's key landmarks: the Louvre, Place de la Bastille, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower. The course records are 2:06:33 by Kenyan Mike Rotich in 2003, and 2:23:05 by Belgian Marleen Renders in 2002. In the history of the race there have been nine male performances under 2:08 and four women's marks under 2:25.
NOTE: The five largest marathons in the world in 2008 in terms of finishers were: 1. ING New York City, 38,096; 2. real,-Berlin, 35,786; 3. Flora London, 34,417; 4. Bank of America Chicago, 31,401; and Paris, 28,846 --Ed.