Ugandan distance runner Stephen Kiprotich (© Getty Images)
Marathons have always been notoriously difficult to predict. Adding to the complexity is that championship marathons are almost invariably run as races in unfavourable conditions while most of the assessable form comes from performances in cooler conditions and often with the substantial assistance of organised pace-making.
One thing that can be said is that the men’s marathon field in Beijing has a hard act to follow. The men’s marathon at the 2008 Olympics was a classic, won by Kenya’s late Sammy Wanjiru in Olympic record time in defiance of both his competitors and the warm conditions.
The men’s marathon will be the first gold medal decided in Beijing, with the race starting at 7:30am on 22 August, the first day of competition. The point-to-point course starts from Yongdingmen Gate and passes such landmarks as The Temple of Heaven and Tian’anmen Square on its way to the finish inside the Bird’s Nest.
Kenya will again have a strong hand to play in another Beijing championship marathon. Dennis Kimetto holds the world record, his 2:02:57 mark set in Berlin last year. Yet he holds little advantage over team-mate Wilson Kipsang.
Kipsang is the previous holder of the world record, the Olympic bronze medallist, and he beat Kimetto in finishing second to Eliud Kipchoge at this year’s London Marathon.
The third member of the Kenyan team is Mark Korir, the winner of this year’s Paris marathon.
So that’s the world record-holder, the immediate past world record-holder and winner of a major big-city race making up Kenya’s three.
Lelisa Desisa looks the strongest of the Ethiopian team. The 2013 world silver medallist, second in Dubai and winner at Boston already this year, he will no doubt be motivated to go one better and break an Ethiopian men’s global marathon drought which goes back to Gezahegne Abera’s consecutive Olympic and World Championships triumphs in 2000 and 2001.
Ethiopia has named four marathoners and has yet to decide its final three. The other possible team members are Yemane Tsegaye, second to Desisa in Boston, Berhanu Lemi, the winner in Dubai at the start of the year, and Endeshaw Negesse, winner of this year’s Tokyo Marathon.
Stephen Kiprotich has proven himself to be a formidable championship racer with marathon victories at the London 2012 Olympics (ahead of 2011 and 2013 world champion Abel Kirui and Kipsang) and the 2013 World Championships (defeating Desisa).
The Ugandan athlete ran a personal best in finishing second in Tokyo this year and has proven he can handle heat and championship racing. If he wins in Beijing it would be three consecutive global championship marathons, an unprecedented feat.
Japan is normally prominent in World Championship marathon running, but has lost the fastest of its selected trio, 2:07:39 man Masato Imai, through illness. With no reserve named, that leaves experienced pair Masakazu Fujiwara and Kazuhiro Maeda as the two Japanese representatives.
Others who could feature include Bahrain’s Shumi Dechasa, European champion Daniele Meucci of Italy and Poland’s Henryk Szost.
Len Johnson for the IAAF