Record-chasing Cherono and Dibaba headline women's race in Berlin

Kenya's Gladys Cherono won her second Berlin Marathon in 2017, but for various reasons finds the odds stacked against her defending her title AP Photo/Michael Sohn

While a strong women's field will assemble for Sunday's Berlin Marathon, Gladys Cherono and Tirunesh Dibaba are the outstanding candidates for the win.

Cherono will arrive at the start line as the defending champion, aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back titles in Germany's capital since Ethiopia's Gete Wami did so in 2006-07. Japan's Naoko Takahashi, in 2001-02, is the only other woman to win consecutive Berlin Marathons, proving that it is no easy feat despite a runner's pedigree or form.

Speaking of form, Ethiopia's Dibaba will set off on the 42.195km route with hers unclear, as she will be making her Berlin debut. Dibaba did start the London Marathon back in April, but failed to finish whereas Cherono (who, at 35, is Dibaba's senior by two years) claimed a fourth-place on her own debut there.

The Berlin course is regarded as the fastest of the six prestigious world marathons -- which includes Tokyo, Boston, London, Chicago and New York City -- and Dibaba's personal best places her well clear of any of the entrants for Sunday's race, even Cherono, who has pinned her main target at achieving her fastest ever marathon.

Interestingly, Dibaba's PB, a 2:17.56, came while finishing second at the 2017 London Marathon to Mary Jepkosgei Keitany, who happened to set a new world record for a 'women only' race. As such it will be that mark, 2:17:01 and beyond, fuelling Dibaba's fifth-ever marathon.

"I've heard a lot about the Berlin Marathon and did my research. I know very well that the course is very fast," Dibaba said during Wednesday's pre-race press conference.

"I improved my training in preparation for Berlin and did more volume. I am very well prepared and want to beat my best time on Sunday."

Should Dibaba do in Berlin what she initially attempted at the London Marathon, bettering either of the women's world records, it will further enhance her claims on the 'greatest female distance runner in history' title.

That said, there'll be other contenders hoping to prevent her from dominating the 45th running of this iconic marathon. Chief among them is Dibaba's fellow Ethiopian Asselefech Medessa Mergia, and Kenyan legend Edna Kiplagat, both of whom have personal bests under the 2:20 mark.

That said, Mergia and Kiplagat have to go all the way back to 2012 to dust off the stopwatches which recorded their personal bests. Thus, their best chance of upsetting the two favourites would come if the weather predictions prove incorrect and a more tactical race ensues.

Still, Kiplagat (who won the Boston Marathon last year, aged 37) will be highly-motivated for Sunday's race as it not only marks her Berlin debut but finishing it would mean she'd become the 3787th person ever to complete all six World Major Marathons. (For context, more people have summited Mount Everest than have earned the AbbottWMM Six Star Medal by finishing all six city marathons.)

"It has always been my goal to run in Berlin. I know the course is fast and shall try to run my best ever time," remarked the two-time world champion.

Intriguingly, all conjecture about form, weather and tactics might prove irrelevant on Sunday because of an intriguing peculiarity: since 2010, the women's winner has alternated between an Ethiopian and a Kenyan.

Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) and Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) started the trend by doing it twice from 2010-2013. Then Tirfi Tsegaye claimed a win for Ethiopia in 2014, before Cherono's own two wins (2015 and 2017) were split by Kebede joining Renata Kokowska and Uta Pippig on a record three wins two years ago.

By that methodology, Cherono's best chance of claiming her own place in the record club will only be next year and one of Dibaba, Mergia or Melese will be first to cut the tape with the Brandenburg Gate looming behind them.