Kenya's Albert Korir could be the man to beat on Sunday. Photo: Lisi Niesner/EPA

CAPE TOWN – Cape Town-based British athlete Tish Jones, is the exception to the rule regarding Cape Town Marathon success: if you want to win the race, you must be born in east Africa.

Jones’ victory in the 2016 event, when she edged out Ethiopian Megertu Geletu, is the only time anyone outside of Kenya or Ethiopia has won the Cape Town Marathon since the race was re-launched in 2014. And in that time only four podium places out of a possible 20 have gone to runners from outside the borders of the two distance running Meccas.

Asefa Negewo and Isabella Ochichi hold the current records for the Cape Town Marathon with winning times of 2hr 08min 41sec and 2:30:20, set in 2016 and 2015 respectively. And it’s no surprise that the record breakers hail from Ethiopia and Kenya as well.

Simply put, the vast array of talent from the countries from the Great Rift Valley has been the primary influence on the Cape Town Marathon from the outset and has set the bar high for South Africans and athletes from other countries to emulate. 

Kenyan Willy Kotile and Ethiopian Meseret Biru won the inaugural titles in 2014, Kenyans Shadrack Kemboi and Ochichi took honours in 2015, Negewo and Jones won in 2016, while Negewo defended his title last year with Ethiopian Betelhem Moges winning the women’s title.

But Cape Town is not alone in enjoying African success in marathon racing. Such is the success of the distance running structures and talent in Kenya and Ethiopia that athletes from those countries are dominating marathons all over the world. A glance at the official rankings of top marathon times for 2018 (up to mid-August) tells the story. 

This year’s line-up of athletes from east Africa is as impressive as ever, with Kenyan Jacob Chesari Korir (2:07:47) the fastest on paper among the men, but given Albert Korir’s current form - he placed a close second in the Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan in March in 2:08:17 and won last year’s Vienna Marathon in 2:08:40 - he could be the man to beat on Sunday.

Fellow Kenyan, Edwin Kimaiyo, looks a strong contender, with a 1:01:04 half marathon under his belt some years back and a 2:09:12 personal best marathon in Shanghai last year to finish fourth behind South African Stephen Mokoka.

Ethiopian Fikre Assefa, 29, is another athlete boasting a sub-2:09 time, following his second position in the Kospice Peace Marathon in 2:08:36 last year and has also run a half marathon in under 62 minutes, while Kipsang Kipkemoi is another podium contender. The Kenyan ran 2:09:59 for sixth place in Seville earlier this year.

Ethiopian, Askale Alemayehu Adula (2:29:01), has the fastest time of the east African women, with the 22-year-old having set the time in placing fifth in Shanghai in 2016, in the same year she won the Rock ‘* Roll Marathon in Madrid at the start of her marathon career.

Ethiopian Almaz Negede raced to an impressive second place at China’s Chongqing Marathon earlier this year in 2:30:33, just 13 seconds slower than the Cape Town Marathon record.

An interesting entry is that of Failuna Matanga from Tanzania, adding to the Rift Valley diversity, with Matanga having raced to an impressive 69:35 half marathon in Barcelona this year, after having run a solid 2:34:12 at the Amsterdam Marathon last year.

Given the strength of the east Africans, it will be tough for SA athletes to prevent the 2018 titles again disappearing north of our borders, but with Mokoka and Nolene Conrad in the line-up, it could be time for the titles to come home.

Stephen Granger