Three elite runners from East Africa will try Saturday to reach one of track and field's most elusive goals: the sub-two-hour marathon.
Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea will run on a flat, closed 2.4-kilometer course in Monza, Italy, chosen for its optimal altitude and track conditions for running.
The race is sponsored by sportswear manufacturer Nike Inc., which recently launched what it called a "moonshot" project to break the two-hour marathon barrier. The current world record for the 26.2-mile race is 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.
Kenyan Wesley Korir, the winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon, thinks a sub-two-hour time is possible.
"It's achievable someday, though I am not sure if it will happen in this particular race," he told VOA's Swahili service. "Nike as the main sponsors have done their best to ensure some of the best runners participate."
Korir said attempting to run a marathon in two hours or less would stretch the limits of human capacity. To complete the marathon in under two hours, the runners will have to shave an average of seven seconds off every mile they run.
The sponsors are giving the runners every possible advantage, including pace setters and specially designed shoes — made by Nike, of course.
"It's good to have good shoes, but that's not enough," Korir said. "The ultimate requirement is fitness and enough exercise."
Because of the advantages, the time will not count as an official world record if achieved.
Kipchoge is considered one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time, having won the 2016 Olympic Marathon and marathons in London, Chicago and Berlin. His top time in the race is 2:03:05.
Desisa has two wins at the Boston Marathon, including the 2013 edition, which was disrupted by two bomb explosions at the finish line. His top marathon time is 2:04:45.
Tadese is the current world record-holder for the half-marathon. He has competed in marathons, with a personal best of 2:10:41.