With the Marathon news so far this season dominated by the competition of athletes against the clock, many of the world's best have arrived in New York City for a race likely to feature both speed and strategy, as the champions of three major marathons meet at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
While 2010 champion Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia has returned to defend his title at Sunday's ING New York City Marathon, he will face the winners of the Boston and London marathons, respectively Geoffrey and Emmanuel Mutai (who are not related), of Kenya. Add 2010 London champion Tsegaye Kebede, also Ethiopian, to the mix, and that makes four men accustomed to winning and only one first prize.
Geoffrey Mutai holds bragging rights as the fastest of the lot, having covered the Marathon distance in a staggering 2:03:02, albeit on a perfect day on the aided Boston course. Even without that mark, Geoffrey has run 2:04:55 in Rotterdam and 2:05:08 in Berlin, both second-place performances in 2010.
Emmanuel Mutai set a course record of 2:04:40 to win London last spring. He was second to Gebremariam in New York in 2010. Mutai turned in a sub-62-minute second half in London. Both Mutais are masters of the negative split, running the second half of the race faster than the first.
They will want that speed to contend with Gebremariam, whose kick makes him impossible to count out if he's in contention close to the end of the race. The 2009 World Cross Country champion will be starting only his fourth Marathon, having won his debut here last year, he then finished third in Boston behind Geoffrey Mutai this spring. However, Gebremariam dropped out of the World Championships marathon in Daegu barely two months ago, and his condition is therefore a subject of speculation. Emmanuel and Geoffrey will want to hold his feet to the fire as early as practical.
Tsegaye Kebede, a two-time champion in Fukuoka and bronze medallist in the Beijing Olympic Marathon, could only manage fifth in his London title defence last spring. Like Geoffrey and Emmanuel Mutai, however, Kebede is in a position to claim the half-million-dollar World Marathon Majors series with a victory in New York this fall. (Even Gebremariam, by winning, might set up a complex tie which could end with him taking a share of the jackpot.)
Kenyan sweep in Majors?
If either Mutai, or debutante Matthew Kisorio (58:46 Half Marathon PB) should come away with the victory, statistician Marty Post of the World Marathon Majors points out that it would be the first time Kenyan athletes have won all six of the Majors in a calendar year - Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and this year the World Championships Marathon in Daegu.
More significantly in a year which has seen four Marathons faster than the previous World Record, the four city Majors run so far this year have all seen course records; a new mark in New York would complete that sweep. The New York course record is 2:07:43 by Tesfaye Jifar in 2001; since then, Post says, "there have been four Berlin course records, three Boston course records, and two London and Chicago course records. When Jifar ran that time ten years ago it was equal to the 47th fastest time in history; it now stands as equal to the 290th fastest time ever."
Keitany and Kilel lead the women's field
As with the men, both the Boston and London women's champions will be racing in New York this fall. Mary Keitany, the 2009 World Half Marathon champion and World Record holder at that distance with a 1:05:50 this year, has the fastest PB in the field, a 2:19:19 she ran in winning London this spring. Caroline Kilel took Boston in a PB 2:22:36.
2010 champion Edna Kiplagat will not be running, choosing instead to concentrate on returning to form after a minor injury suffered in the course of her World Championships Marathon victory in Daegu.
Keitany and Kilel will be joined by a range of challengers. Kim Smith, who holds New Zealand national records for most distances from 3000m to the Marathon, will be racing; Smith is the North American all-comers record holder at the Half Marathon. 2:20 marathoner Galina Bogomolova of Russia will toe the line, as will 2010 London runner-up Inga Abitova.
With the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon coming in January, most local talent has opted out of New York this year, but 2009 men's champion (and 2004 Olympic silver medallist) Meb Keflezighi will be back in New York. On the women's side, two track internationals, three-time Olympian Jen Rhines and Marathon debutante Lauren Fleshman (7th in the World Championships 5000m) will be starting. Local interest is focused on Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, at 2:23:31 the fastest marathoner in New York history.
A pair of Portuguese internationals will also be in the women's field, four-time World Championships entrant Jessica Augusto and 2009 European Cross Country champion Ana Dulce Felix. Joining the Portuguese in the European column will be three-time U.K. national 5000m champion Jo Pavey and Swedish Marathon record holder Isabellah Andersson.
Parker Morse for the IAAF