Koskei heads star-studded Belfast Marathon line-up
The 32nd Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon women's race on Bank Holiday Monday will feature the runner-up from the last two years plus the Commonwealth Games silver medallist from Melbourne 2006.
In last year's race Russia's Yelena Kozhevnikova made a valiant effort to stay in contention with eventual winner Alice Chelangat of Kenya who was running at record breaking pace.
While Chelangat raced through the halfway point in a very fast 78 mins pace, Kozhevnikova was left to battle up the difficult Antrim Road hill 90 seconds further back.
In the testing second half of the race, Olympian Chelangat defied the poor weather conditions to storm further ahead and secure victory in a record breaking time of 2 hrs 39 mins 2 secs.
Three minutes further back Kozhevnikova fought gamely on to hold off Poland's Wioletta Kryza, eventually breaking away to secure a comfortable runner-up spot in 2.42.10, the fourth fastest ever time by a woman in the Belfast Marathon.
Kozhevnikova also took second place in the 2011 Belfast Marathon in 2.48.05, behind Ukrainian Vera Ovcharuk who won in 2.46.04.
The 40-year-old Russian has defied her age by continuing to run impressive times. She has a personal best of 2.37.41 and five marathon wins to her credit.
However, she may well be denied victory yet again due to the presence of 2006 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Helen Cherono Koskei.
The 29-year-old Kenyan has become a mother and has taken time out from the sport following her Melbourne success.
Koskei has been back in serious training for some time and will be intent on continuing a highly successful marathon career in which she has run under 2 hrs 35 mins on seven occasions, her fastest time 2.29.33 in Seoul in 2007.
Koskei is best remembered for her classic dual in the Melbourne Games sun, battling for the entire 26 miles with defending Commonwealth champion and local Australian heroine Kerry McCann, who inched ahead in the final 100 metres to win by two seconds in 2.30.54.
Also racing in Belfast, in her first marathon, is 32-year-old Sarah Kerubo Kebaso, well known on the half marathon scene throughout Europe.
But anyone will do well to better Chelengat's superb sub 2 hrs 40 mins course record from last year.
However Koskei could well excel following her extended break. She is tipped to be first across the line from another impressive female entry of 850.
Meanwhile, in Toulouse, Northern Ireland triple middle distance record holder Kerry Harty of Newcastle started her track season in style, finishing second in a 3,000m race in 9 mins 11.66 secs. This time is her second fastest, two seconds short of her record.
The race was won by double European cross country champion Fionnuala Britton from Wicklow in 9.03.12.