Rome, Italy – Defending champions Siraj Gena and Frehiwot Dado of Ethiopia will return to defend their titles at Sunday’s (20) Rome Marathon.

Rome will host the first ever Italian IAAF Gold Label Road Race. No less than 16,188 runners coming from 84 different countries have entered the major Italian Marathon race which will toe the starting-line from the world-wide famous Fori Imperiali on Sunday morning: 9147 come from Italy and 7041 come from abroad setting a new record of participation for the marathon in the Eternal City.

The Maratona di Roma and the Tokyo Marathon are twin races. Both events are united in the name of Abebe Bikila, who won two Olympic Marathon titles, first in Rome 1960 and again in Tokyo 1964.

Gena to face 2006 winner Mandago – men’s race

Fifteen runners with PBs under 2:11 have entered the men’s race. It will be again a race between Kenya and Ethiopia for the final win in the Fori Imperiali with the local interest focused on reigning Italian Marathon champion Migidio Bourifa.

Two African runners who have already triumphed in Rome start among the favourites this year. They are Siraj Gena from Ethiopia and David Mandago Kipkorir from Kenya. Gena famously won last year in 2:08:39 running barefooted in the final 300 metres to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bikila’s Olympic triumph. The Ethiopian earned a 5000 EUR bonus offered by the organisers to the winner in the case they would cross the finish-line barefooted.

“It was a special feeling to run the last metres barefooted,” Gena said last year.

Mandago also has a special memory of Rome where he won in 2006 in 2:08:36. Later in his career Mandago lowered his PB to 2:06:53 in Paris in 2009.

The list of 2:10 runners who will run for the win features Ethiopians Yared Dagnaw (PB 2:08:13 for fourth in Eindhoven in 2010), Tafere Alemayehu (PB 2:08:46), Kedir Fikadu (fourth in Rome last year in his PB 2:09:15) and Abdulahi Dawit Shami (PB 2:09:50), and Kenyans Paul Malakwen Kosgei (PB 2:09:15 set in Paris 2008), Yator Jacob Kiplagat (PB 2:09:02), Chumba Dixon Kiptolo (PB 2:09:20) and Simon Kamama Mukum (PB 2:09:35).

The Italian challenge will be led by 41-year-old Italian champion and Barcelona European Championships seventh placer Migidio Bourifa who will run in Rome for the fourth time. In 2004 he was second in 2:11:13, fourth (and Italian champion) in 2007, and seventh (and first among Europeans) in 2:12:35 last year.

Third straight for Dado? – women’s race

Firehiwot Dado from Ethiopia will be looking to score the first hat-trick of wins in Rome after taking the title in 2009 (2:27:08) and 2010 (2:25:28) becoming the only runner to win two editions in a row. Dado also won the last edition of the Florence Marathon last November beating rainy and cold conditions.

Dado will face again her compatriot Haile Kebebush, who finished runner-up last year in the Italian capital in a new PB of 2:25:31.

Italian hopes will be carried by Rosaria Console who set her PB of 2:26:45 when she finished a solid fourth at the Berlin Marathon in September 2009. Console will run in Rome for the third time. She ran her best race in Rome in 2004 when she finished fourth to qualify for the Athens Olympic Games.

Other names gunning for the 15,000 EUR top prize will be Natalya Volgina from Russia (PB 2:27:32 set in Paris 2006), Ethiopians Yeshimebet Tadesse Bifa (PB 2:27:45), Goitetom Haftu Tesema (PB 2:28:24) and Ayanu Workitu (PB 2:29:25) and Simona Staicu from Hungary (PB 2:29:59).

Alongside the 42.195 km race, the 4Km Roma Fun, a non-competitive mass-race, will also be held. No less than 85,000 runners are expected to toe the starting-line in the Fori Imperiali.

Majestic course

The Rome Marathon will be an important event in a city which is bidding to host the 2020 Olympic Games and extra significance to Sunday’s race will be added by the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy; the Marathon will take place under the patronage of the President of the Republic.

The Rome Marathon boasts “the most scenic course in the world” which stretches along more than 500 places of historical, archeological, religious and architectural significance. The course starts at the Via dei Fori Imperiali, continues to Piazza Venezia, turns into Via del Teatro Marcello, Via Ostiense and St. Paul’s Basilica. Then it stretches along the Lungotevere towards the Synagogue, the Ara Pacis, St. Peter’s Square, then back to the Lungotevere and to Foro Italico, one of the legendary places of the 1960 Rome Olympics. The course continues towards the Mosque, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, the Colosseo and finally the finish-line in Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Source: IAAF