Defending champions Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany will be hoping for a sweet sense of déjà vu when they return to the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday (1), an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Speaking to the press in New York on Thursday, both Keitany and Kipsang oozed confidence that a repeat performance could be on the cards.
“I am well prepared,” said Kipsang. “Last year I didn’t know much about the race, but this year I’ve prepared with the course in mind.”
Keitany, meanwhile, believes she’s ready to run considerably faster than the 2:25:07 she ran to win in 2014. “I am well prepared and my training has been going well,” she said. “I’m better than last year.”
If they achieve their goal, they will become the fifth pairing in the race’s history to successfully defend their titles, following Bill Rodgers and Miki Gorman in 1977, Rodgers and Grete Waitz in 1979, Orlando Pizzolato and Waitz in 1985, and German Silva and Tegla Loroupe in 1995.
In 2014, the men’s race boiled down to a head-to-head duel between Kipsang and Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and, with the same duo heading up the men’s field, there’s every chance the pair will serve up a riveting rematch.
At his best, Kipsang is an almost indomitable force over 26.2 miles, but the 33-year-old has tasted defeat in his two most recent marathons. At the London Marathon in April, the former world record-holder finished a close second to fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, while at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August, Kipsang dropped out before the 35km mark.
He has fonder memories of New York, though, having overcome Desisa’s challenge in dismissive fashion last year – sprinting away in the final 300 metres shortly after taking a long, curious look at his Ethiopian rival, who has since won the Boston Marathon. Desisa has a best of 2:04:45, but like Kipsang, he underperformed at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing just 10 weeks ago, finishing seventh in 2:14:53.
The silver medallist in that race, Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay, is also making a quick turnaround to be on the start line in New York, and having finished runner-up to Desisa in Boston this year, he will pose a significant threat to the leading duo.
Another formidable challenger is Stanley Biwott, who has been prolific at the half marathon in recent years and looks poised to soon take victory at a Marathon Major. The closest he came was when finishing second in London last year, but Biwott showed he was on course for a big run in New York when finishing a close second to Mo Farah at the Great North Run last month in 59:24.
Geoffrey Kamworor faced a similar fate at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August, finishing a close second to Farah over 10,000m, but the 22-year-old Kenyan has been a commanding force on varying terrain over the past two years. He took gold at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang earlier this year and is also the reigning world half-marathon champion, with a best of 58:54.
Given the undulations of the course in New York, Kamworor may not need to run faster than his best of 2:06:12 to win on Sunday, but he will certainly have to produce a performance equally as good, if not better, than anything he has accomplished at the shorter distances.
The home charge will be led by former champion Meb Keflezighi who, at 40, will run his first marathon as a master, while Nick Arciniaga will be hoping to improve on his 10th-place showing last year ahead of the US Olympic Marathon Trials, which take place in LA on February 13.
Keitany tipped to win again
In the women’s race, last year’s champion Mary Keitany will look to take her second title in New York and the 33-year-old looks a clear favourite to do so.
Keitany took time out in 2013 to give birth, but the second-fastest woman in history has since returned to her brilliant best. “It was tough returning to training,” said Keitany. “Becoming a mother is good, though, because when you’re running you think you’re not just running for yourself, but for others.”
This year’s Boston Marathon champion Caroline Rotich may rank as Keitany’s biggest threat. The 31-year-old Kenyan was twice a winner of the New York City Half Marathon but finished seventh on both of her previous appearances in this event.
In Boston, Rotich unleashed an impressive turn of speed in the final 400 metres to take victory in 2:24:55, and Keitany will be hoping to put Rotich out of sight long before they enter Central Park for the closing miles of Sunday’s race.
An intriguing debutante is Kenya’s Sally Kipyego, who comes to the marathon boasting the strongest track credentials in the field. The 29-year-old is a world and Olympic silver medallist over 10,000m and gave a glimpse of her potential on the road when setting a course record to win last year’s New York City Half Marathon in 1:08:31.
Another likely to be in contention is Tigist Tufa, who shocked the field – Keitany included – to win the London Marathon in 2:23:22 in April. The 28-year-old has since finished sixth in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, but her ability to challenge Keitany may depend on how well she has recovered from that effort.
If anyone can upset the East African dominance, then it will likely be Portugal’s Sara Moreira, who made a superb marathon debut in New York last year, finishing third in 2:26:00.
Having missed last year’s race through injury, 2013 champion Priscah Jeptoo returns looking to reclaim the title, but the 31-year-old was only seventh in her most recent marathon in London earlier this year.
Sunday’s event will be the final race of the year in the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which concludes in Tokyo in February. Eliud Kipchoge currently tops the men’s standings on 50 points, but if Desisa can take victory, he will join him at the head of the table.
In that scenario, the winner is decided first by their head-to-head record and then by whoever has most wins in the series, but because the pair have yet to race this year, the rules state that the winner would then be picked via a group vote from the race directors of the Marathon Majors.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF