By Amy Tennery

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York City Marathon welcomes back a full capacity crowd for the first time since the start of the pandemic on Sunday, as Kenyan Albert Korir defends his title and world champion Gotytom Gebreslase fights for another podium finish in her stellar year.

The 50,000-odd athletes expecting one of the Big Apple’s crisp autumn days at the year’s final marathon major will be sorely disappointed as a balmy high of 73 degrees Fahrenheit (22.8°C) is forecast.

But the elite field told reporters on Thursday that fans can expect fireworks nonetheless.

“We have to fight because everybody is coming here to win,” said Korir, who won by a confident 44-second margin a year ago after settling for second in 2019. “I came here to defend my title.”

The biggest threat standing in his way is Kenyan Evans Chebet, who makes his New York debut after winning Boston earlier this year and finishing just off the podium in London in 2021.

Chebet, the fastest in the field with a personal best of 2:03:00, said he would try to replicate his strategy in Boston, where he pulled away around the 35-kilometre mark.

His coach Claudio Berardelli, who interpreted questions for Chebet, said: “He would like to reach 30km with good feelings and then to start putting his mental focus in approaching 35 and then from there, if he feels okay, to do something similar to what he did in Boston, to try his chances to go and win the race.”

The women’s field took a hit when Olympic champion and 2021 New York winner Peres Jepchirchir withdrew due to injury in October, months after she won Boston in a staggering run of superb performances.

Her absence means only one past winner – 2010 champion Edna Kiplagat – will feature in the women’s professional field, making it anyone’s race to win.

Israeli Lonah Chemtai Salpeter is the fastest in the field with a personal best of 2:17:45 that she produced to win the Tokyo Marathon in 2020 and finished third in Eugene this summer but faces a major threat from Ethiopian Gebreslase.

The world champion won Berlin in 2021 and finished third in Tokyo earlier this year, telling reporters via an interpreter on Thursday that she knew there was a target on her back.

“In any race you don’t go into it thinking that so and so’s going to win – everyone’s trying to win,” said Gebreslase.

“Because I won at the world championships they will be expecting something from me.”

Keira D’Amato appears to be the best home hope after winning the Houston Marathon in a blazing-fast 2:19:12, with 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden another contender.

“The field’s so good, so I think I can have a really good day and be anywhere from podium to 20th,” said Linden. “It’s super deep.”

Among the most highly anticipated debutants is twice Olympic 5000 metres silver medallist Hellen Obiri.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)

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