Gelindo Bordin is the defending champion and as such the 33-year- old is one of the favourites. But Bordin has spent more time on politics - standing unsuccessfully for the Italian parliament earlier this year - than running recently.
Bordin could only finish eighth in last year's World Championship marathon, won by Hiromi Taniguchi on home territory in Tokyo. Taniguchi leads the Japanese challenge in Barcelona, backed up by Koichi Morishita and Takeyuki Nakayama.
The Africans, by tradition one of the strongest forces in marathon running, are well represented by Kenya, especially Ibrahim Hussein, the fastest man in the field on this year's form. Hussein, twice winner of the Boston marathon and once of the New York marathon, was a warm favourite four years ago, when he failed to finish. His compatriots, Douglas Wakiihuri, the 1987 world champion, and Boniface Merande should be worth watching for too.
Ethiopia, who won all three Olympic marathon gold medals in the 1960s, have hopes for Abebe Mekonnen and Tema Naali, while Tanzania look to Juma Ikangaa to cope best with the humid conditions as the race winds along the Mediterranean coast.
The British trio are Cannock's Paul Davies-Hale, winner of the Chicago marathon two years ago, Dave Long, of Coventry, and Bridgend's Steve Brace.
A surprise winner, as Bordin himself was, will be the least surprising result. The man whose constitution stands up best to the 26 miles and 385 yards, and to the tortuous assault on Montjuic at the end, is likely to win the last athletics gold medal of the 1992 Olympic Games.