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2008 Olympic Games - Beijing - Men's Marathon Preview
by Sharon Ekstrom
August 24, 2008 marks the highly anticipated Men's Marathon at the Beijing Olympics. Whether the significance of the 2008 race is linked to a roster of talented newcomers ready to challenge veterans in the distance or the epic showdown between longtime rivals Kenya and Ethiopia, the event promises plenty of excitement. Twelve men with sub 2:08 finishes will lead the field, many of those same contenders had tested themselves earlier this spring at the London Marathon where the top three men - Martin Lel (KEN), Samuel Wanjiru (KEN), Abderrahim Goumri (MAR) - smashed the course record with 2:05 finishes.
photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP
In a sport that is currently dominated by runners of African descent, Kenya comes into the Games with their strongest men's marathon team ever - the trio of three-time London Marathon winner Lel, Half Marathon World Record Holder Wanjiru and World Champion Luke Kibet is sure to dominate the field. [With a week until the race, four-time Boston Marathon winner Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot formally withdrew from the marathon citing complications from a thigh injury. Alternate Kibet is enroute to Beijing.] The U.S. team led by Ryan Hall, one of the only non-African runners on the top 20 fastest in the world with a 2:06:17 from the 2008 London Marathon, is joined by Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell, who if in top form will both be ready to take on the lead pack. Do not underestimate the Moroccan and Eritrean teams. Morocco's Jaouad Gharib and Goumri have come close to toppling these top Kenyans before, but didn't have enough to outkick them in the final 400 meters of those particular races. Eritreans Yonas Kifle and Yared Asmeron who are newer to the marathon distance are coming off great seasons. Defending Champion of the 2004 Athens Olympics, Stefano Baldini (ITA), the only top ten finisher from the Athens Games on the Beijing roster, rounds out the field. Baldini, who has been advised to take three days of rest due to a thigh injury, is hungry to double and welcomes the tough hot and humid conditions on which he thrived when he won gold.
Other top contenders to watch are Viktor Röthlin (SUI), Tsuyoshi Ogata (JPN), Atsushi Sato (JPN), Satoshi Osaki (JPN), Deribe Merga (ETH), Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) and Mubarak Hassan Shami (QAT).
Who's Here, Who's Not
Marathon World Record Holder Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) who started a media frenzy by stating Beijing's air pollution would ruin his long term health opted out of the marathon distance at the 2008 Beijing Games. Now, fresh off a sixth place finish in the 10,000 meters at the Beijing Games, Gebrselassie made a statement regretting his original decision to sit out of the marathon. Silver medalist from the Athens Games, Meb Keflezighi (USA) whose medal brought hope back to American distance running, along with Alan Culpepper (USA) and Dan Browne (USA) failed to qualify for the U.S men's team at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in New York City. Bronze medalist from the Athens Games, Vanderlei de Lima (BRA), whose Olympic experience was hindered by a crazed spectator who grabbed him from the course while he was on track for a gold medal, withdrew from the 2008 Olympics due to an ongoing injury. Former British national Jon Brown who changed his citizenship to Canadian due to his marriage to a Canadian national was not able to qualify for these games. Canada has no entrants in the men's and women's marathon - which angered many nationals who believed the Canadian Team qualifications were stricter than the Olympic qualification. Kenyan Paul Tergat whose job with the military impeded his training for the 2008 London Marathon, thereby causing him to forfeit selection; but his absence makes room for the new generation of Kenyans two of whom he trains with. Four-time winner of the Boston Marathon Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot has withdrawn from the men's marathon as a result of aggravating a thigh injury while doing speed work.