Sokolov sights on a hat-trick
Course record holder Aleksey Sokolov from Russia will go for a hat-trick of victories when he lines out for Monday's Lifestyle Sports adidas Dublin Marathon.
Sokolov first won the race in 2006 and a year later repeated that win with a stunning time of two hours, nine minutes and 10 seconds.
This time was the first sub-2:10 recorded in Dublin.
It knocked more than four minutes off the course record set by Dublin marathon regular Lezan Kimutai three years earlier.
Sokolov returned to Dublin last year when he was second behind Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa who narrowly missed out on the record when he finished in 2:09.12.
So can Sokolov do it again? If he does, he will pick up a bonus of €5,000 along with the €15,000 cheque that goes to the race winner -- not bad for just over two hours work.
A quick check of the entries this year shows a number of athletes capable of running around 2:12. Apart from Sokolov, only three have run under 2:10.
Kenyan Joel Kiptoo's best time of 2:09.08 was recorded at the Karlsruhe Marathon in Germany last year. This year, he finished 17th in Paris and was over four minutes slower.
His fellow countryman Simon Kariuki Njoroge ran his best time of 2:09.46 at Frankfurt in October 2007 and ran 2:11.10 at Tiberias last January. From Ethiopia, Kedir Fikadu has a time of 2:09.15 from Rome last March and could give the east African nation its second consecutive victory. Of the others, Kenyan Maurice Mutinda Musyoki clocked a strong time of 62:36 for a half marathon in Italy last March, while Philip Koech Kanda improved his marathon time significantly with a time of 2:11.53 at Eindhoven last October.
Then there's Urga Negewo who ran his first marathon in Belfast last May, winning in 2:16.53, and Andriy Toptun from the Ukraine, sixth last year in 2:12.41.
Leading the women's entry is defending champion Kateryna Stetsenko from the Ukraine.
Last year, Stetsenko's time of 2:32.45 gave her a narrow victory over Helalia Johannes from Namibia and Tiki Gelana from Ethiopia. With Gelana returning to Dublin and a strong Russian entry, this year's race could be equally tight.
Best of the Russians is Tatiana Aryasova, winner of the 2008 Los Angeles Marathon in 2:29.
Yulia Gromova won her third straight San Diego Marathon earlier this year in 2:27.42.
Leading the entry for the Irish championship is Alan O'Shea. The Bantry doctor last month won the Lifestyle Sports adidas Dublin Half Marathon in 67:06.
Defending champion is Sergiu Ciobanu -- the Tipperary-based Clonliffe man from Moldova. Ciobanu won the national title last year when he finished 15th in Dublin with a time of 2:22.06.
Barbara Sanchez looks favourite to win the women's title after clocking a half marathon best of 78.06 at the Great North Run.
She leads a strong team from Raheny Shamrock that includes Patrycja Wlodarcyzk and Lorraine Manning.