Four of the world's elite distance runners will line up for the start of the Feb. 28, 2016 Tokyo Marathon with realistic hopes of winning half a million dollars as the 2016 Abbott World Marathon Majors Series IX champions.
The Tokyo Marathon marks the conclusion of Series IX of the 10-year-old �grand slam' of marathon running, in which male and female athletes score points for their finishing positions at six of the best-known big city marathons in the world as well as at established global track and field competitions like the IAAF World Championships.
The revised format contest began at Tokyo Marathon 2015 and, after eight races, will come to a thrilling finale in the Japanese capital this weekend where one man and three women go all out for victory in pursuit of the winner-takes-all prize.
�"It's been an amazing year," said Tim Hadzima, Abbott World Marathon Majors general manager. �"Series IX of the Abbott World Marathon Majors has seen it all: thrilling sprint races right up to the finish line, runaway victories, breakthrough performances and more. We look forward to another great race on the streets of Tokyo on Sunday, and to crowning our champions."
Dickson Chumba, Birhane Dibaba, Helah Kiprop and Aberu Kebede can all leap to the top of their respective standings if they take the maximum 25 points on offer for victory.
Chumba, the Tokyo Marathon's very own course record holder, is just 16 points behind fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who earned 50 points for back-to-back victories at the London marathon and BMW BERLIN-MARATHON in 2015.
Chumba earned his spot on the leaderboard when he won the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last October, and placed third in Tokyo a year ago. If he can regain the Tokyo title he won in 2014, he will join Kipchoge on 50 points, an athlete's top two scores counting towards their series total.
But it won't be easy for Chumba, as the 29-year-old faces a formidable field that includes the hugely experienced Emmanuel Mutai, a former Virgin Money London Marathon champion who lies second on the world all-time list with his best of 2:03:13 and is one of only three men to have run quicker than 2 hours 4 minutes on two occasions.
Then there's the former two-times world champion Abel Kirui and another Kenyan, Eliud Kiptanui, who was second at the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON last September behind Kipchoge.
The Olympic and former world champion, Stephen Kiprotich, also has much to race for. The Ugandan lowered his personal best when finishing second in Tokyo last year just ahead of Chumba, and could move up from joint ninth to second in the standings with victory this year.
If Chumba's task is tough, the women's is even harder. Reigning TCS New York City Marathon champion Mary Keitany and world champion Mare Dibaba currently lead the standings together on 41 points after one win and one second place apiece in 2015.
But Birhane Dibaba can gallop past them both if she retains the Tokyo title she won last year. Another victory for the Ethiopian and another 25 points would take the 22-year-old clear to the top with 50 points; second place, worth 16 points, would put her level with the leaders.
Kiprop and Kebede can also reach 41 points if they break the tape first on Sunday. Kiprop was second behind Dibaba in Tokyo last year and picked up a silver medal at the World Championships in Beijing where she missed gold by one second after a four-woman fight to the finish. Currently holding 32 points on the leaderboard, the Kenyan needs to win to reach the summit.
As does Kebede, who has 16 points from her runner-up performance at the 2015 Berlin Marathon, where she was just outside her best. Kebede certainly knows how to get to the finish line first�she was the 2010 and 2012 Berlin champion, and took the 2013 Tokyo title. She has also earned big victories in Frankfurt, Shanghai and Rotterdam in the past.
The chief threat to this trio's ambition lies with Edna Kiplagat, the experienced Kenyan who has won two World Championships titles as well as the London and New York City Marathons in the last six years. Kiplagat is out of the running for the big check, with only one point from this series, but she could certainly play her part in the outcome of the Series IX contest.