Points and prizes up for grabs as Abbott World Marathon Majors resume in Berlin
Three of the four fastest men in history will take to the roads in pursuit of points and prizes over the next few weeks as Series X of the Abbott World Marathon Majors hots up through the autumn with three world-class races in the space of six weeks.
After two thrilling contests at the Olympic Games in Rio, an array of global medalists, AbbottWMM champions and world record breakers will seek to make their mark on the Series X leaderboards in Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
With Olympic gold medalists and Virgin Money London Marathon champions Eliud Kipchoge and Jemima Sumgong topping the standings on maximum points, only victory can put their challengers in contention for the prestigious championship to be awarded following the Series' climax at next year's April 17, 2017 Boston.
The autumn road show gets underway with the BMW BERLIN MARATHON on September 25 where former world record holder Wilson Kipsang takes on his Kenyan compatriot, history's third quickest marathon runner, Emmanuel Mutai.
Kipsang, who won the Series VIII AbbottWMM title, currently lies 11th on the men's leaderboard with one point from his fifth place in London, while Mutai, the Series V winner, is yet to trouble the scorers in 2016.
Both have performed superbly on Berlin's famously flat and fast course in the past it was here that Kipsang broke the world record with 2:03:23 in 2013 while Mutai clocked the world's third quickest time of 2:03:13 when second behind world record breaker Dennis Kimetto two years ago.
But the Kenyans face a formidable challenge in the German capital from track legend Kenenisa Bekele and fellow Ethiopian Tsegaye Mekonnen, the teen sensation who ran a world junior best in 2014.
Bekele won three Olympic and five world championship titles on the track and will be keen to prove his marathon doubters wrong after the disappointment of being left out of Ethiopia's Olympic team. The Berlin debutant is sixth in Series X with nine points after placing third in London where he produced an impressive performance while not fully fit.
A fast time in Berlin is almost guaranteed as the line-up is one of the quickest in the race's history with nine men holding personal bests of 2:06 or better.
None have run quicker than Kimetto, however, and the world record holder returns to action at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 9, seeking to recover his best form. Kimetto hasn't won a marathon race since his barrier breaking 2:02:57 Berlin victory in 2014. He could only place ninth in London this April but will have fond memories of Chicago having shattered the course record in 2013.
This will be far from a one-man show, however, as Kimetto faces two other Chicago champions in last year's winner Dickson Chumba and Tsegaye Kebede, Ethiopia's 2012 Chicago champion and Series VII AbbottWMM winner.
All three are looking for their first Series X points, while a trio with scores on the board go for glory at the TCS New York City Marathon on November 6, when last year's champion Stanley Biwott faces Lelisa Desisa, who was third in 2015, and world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie.
Biwott and Desisa are level in third on 16 points apiece in Series X after placing second in London and Boston respectively, while Ghebreslassie is ninth with eight points after just missing the podium in London and Rio. A New York victory could move any of them into second behind Kipchoge with two races to come.
Competition is equally fierce in the women's standings where the hunt for points begins in Berlin this Sunday with Aberu Kebede aiming to regain the title she took in 2010 and 2012.
Kebede was beaten 12 months ago when Gladys Cherono ran the world's fastest marathon, but she will be favorite this year when she takes on fellow Ethiopians Amane Beriso, who was second in Dubai in January, and Birhane Dibaba, who finished fourth overall in the Series IX standings.
Florence Kiplagat defends her Chicago Marathon title knowing that victory over Atsede Baysa could move her above the Ethiopian into second place. The Kenyan world half marathon record holder has nine points after finishing third in London in April while Baysa picked up 25 winning the Boston Marathon six days earlier and will be aiming for a second victory to join Sumgong on top of the leaderboard.
Kiplagat's compatriot Valentine Kipketer also hopes to build on her one-point tally from fifth in Boston, while AWMM newcomer Gulume Chala, adds to the Ethiopian threat. Chala took six minutes from her best when she won the Frankfurt Marathon last October.
Having broken 2:20 in Chicago last year, Cherono now takes on New York where she'll aim to deny Series IX champion Mary Keitany a third straight victory in the five borough race. Keitany is the second fastest woman in history and is hoping to become the first to win three New York Marathons in a row since Grete Waitz took five from five from 1982 to 1986.
Three-time Dubai Marathon champion Aselefech Mergia was runner-up to Keitany last year. She hopes to go one better this time after placing fifth in London, while fellow Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba also holds a sub-2:20 time. The former Los Angeles champion was third in Boston in 2015 but finished out of the points in seventh this year.
This year's Boston bronze medalist Joyce Chepkirui is also in the field and could well add to her nine points.
Current Series IX leaderboards can be accessed here.