Two-time champion and Delhi Commonwealth Games gold medallist John Kelai of Kenya will be the cynosure of all eyes in the upcoming Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, to be held on January 16.
Kelai, who triumphed in the men's event in 2007 and 2008, is expected to face stiff competition from 2000 Sydney Olympics bronze winner Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia, Oleg Kulkov of Russia besides compatriots Kiprono Just Kipchirchir and Evans Rutto.
Kipchirchir and Rutto have personal bests of 2:08.36 seconds and 2:10.6s respectively.
Thanks to the increased prize-money (US $325,000) and the IAAF Gold Label status, the event has attracted some of the world's best male and female long-distance runners.
According to Ian Ladbrooke, the Elite Athletes Coordinator, the men's field is the strongest ever, while the women's field is also formidable.
The men are capable of a sub-2 hour, 10 minutes finish, while the women are targeting a sub-2:30 winning time if the weather is kind, Ladbroke said.
Two months after claiming the CWG gold in Delhi in 2:14.35s, the 34-year-old Kelai, with a personal best of 2:09:09s in 2005 at Eindhoven, returns to Mumbai to regain the title after finishing third last year.
Ethiopia's Bizunesh Urgesa will defend her women's crown and leads an equally strong field, which has ten runners who have clocked 2:30s or less.
Urgesa's countrywoman, Haile Kebebush, winner in 2009 and runner-up last year, Rose Kosgei and Helen Kimutai will lead the Kenyan challenge in Asia's richest marathon.
The men's and women's winners will receive US $36,000.