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2012 Olympic Games - London - Men's Marathon Preview
by Sharon Ekstrom
On Sunday, August 12, 2012 the XXX Olympiad will host the final - and to our beliief, the most important - event of the meet, the men's marathon. The competition will be top notch with many of the fastest and best marathoners in the world in attendance. Six men who have run sub-2:05 marathoners are among the featured runners: Wilson Kipsang (KEN), Ayele Abshero (ETH), Emmanuel Mutai (KEN), Dino Sefer (ETH), Getu Feleke (ETH) and Ryan Hall (USA). They will be met by number of other decorated marathoners - some include silver medalist from the 2004 Athens Olympics Meb Keflezighi (USA), double World Champion Abel Kirui (KEN), and two-time New York City Marathon Champion Marilson dos Santos.
The Favorites in London: Kenya? Ethiopia? USA?
Kenya: With a slew of the absolute best marathoners in the world, the selection process for the Kenyan team was more difficult and controversial than ever with the world-record holder and fastest marathoner in the world left off the team. In their wisdom, the Kenyan Federation chose three men for the team: Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui and Emmanuel Mutai (Mutai replaced Moses Mosop, the original selection who could not race due to injury).
Kenya has always been a country renowned for phenomenal distance runners, but it wasn't until the 2008 Beijing Games that the nation won gold at the Olympic Marathon as the late Sammy Wanjiru who pushed the envelope and won the marathon in an Olympic-record time. After gaining Gold in 2008 - Kenya is the favorite to take Gold again with any of its three team members capable of winning or medaling at the games.
Ethiopia: After Kenya, Ethiopia has also been known for the quality of its distance runners. From Abebe Bekele who won back-to-back Olympic Marathons in the '60s to Haile Gebrselassie, the former two-time World Record setter, Ethiopia has produced fast and tough runners. Like Kenya, Ethiopia left a number of its most well-known marathoners on the bench. Not selected for the Olympic team were 2008 bronze medalist Tsegay Kebede, top marathoner and NYC Marathon champion Gebre Gebremariam and others. Instead Ethiopia selected three men with exceptionally fast recent marathon finishes: Ayele Abshero (2012 Dubai Marathon champion, 2:04:23), Dino Sefer (2012 Dubai Marathon runner-up, 2:04:50) and Getu Feleke (2012 Rotterdam Marathon champion, 2:04:50) - giving Ethiopia the second, fourth and fifth fastest men in the field.
USA: Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman were the three favorites to make the 2008 Olympic team - but that year only one of the three made it onto the team as Hall won the 2008 Olympic Trials race and the other two dropped out. But four years later, those favorites have shown their staying power and all returned four years later as the top three finishers in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials race. Ryan Hall, though second at the Trials, has the fastest times of the three and is one of the six men in the Olympic field who has run sub-2:05 (albeit at the wind-aided 2011 Boston Marathon) and could stand to finish near the top of the field. Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Silver Medalist, proved his toughness at the 2004 Olympics and has set personal best times at his previous two marathons. And Abdi Abdirahman is crazy enough (and we say that knowing and respecting Abdi) to believe that he can do anything, and just might... While the Americans will be behind the Kenyans and Ethiopians at the bookmakers in Las Vegas or London, one of these men might just sneak in for a medal.
Others to Watch
Morocco: There are too many top athletes to name, but there are some we must mention. Morocco has producted some of the top marathoners in the world, but will not be fielding two of its biggest names: 2008 silver medalist Jaouad Gharib (not selected) and Abderrahim Goumri (suspended from the sport following a doping charge from the 2011 World Championships). But Morocco will be fielding some of the fastest in the race, with its team of Adil Annani (4th at the 2012 London Olympics in 2:07:43) and Abderrahim Bouramdane (4th at the 2010 London Marathon in 2:07:33).
Brazil: Marilson Gomes dos Santos is the pride of South America. With his fast times and two victories at the New York City Marathon, Gomes dos Santos overlooked from the list of top contenders. And his recent fourth place finish at the 2011 London Marathon in a personal best of 2:06:34 shows that he likely has the speed to be near the front.
What will it take for Gold?
Fast times, good health, strong training and good race day strategy have always been key factors for athletes. With such a competitive field, one must ask, what does it take to win Olympic gold? Perhaps it will be a little bit of luck or as some athletes may say, "God's will." One can analyze many factors of how the athletes fared in big city races, championship races, recent seasons, etc.
Wilson Kipsang is the fastest in the Olympic field, but not as experienced as some of his competition. An added challenge for Kipsang and some of the other speed-demons is that the Olympic Marathon will not have pacemakers to which they are often accustomed and the course will feature many turns and even cobble stones. But while Athens featured heat and hills and Beijing was hot - the London Olympic Marathon will feature a flat course and moderate temperatures, so expect a fast race that will favor the fastest men in the field.
The Man Without a [Recognized] Country
One of the best stories of the 2012 Olympics will certainly be that of Guor Marial who will be the first athlete to compete for newly minted South Sudan. As South Sudan wazs not recognized in time to be included in the Olympic rosters, Marial will run not under his country's flag, but under the Olympic Flag. Sudan...a country that had seen 2 million deaths as a result of thirty-nine years of civil war and more than 15 million refugees. Marial escaped a labor camp and eventually made it to the USA where he attended high school in New Hampshire and college at Iowa State. In the spirit of sport, the Olympic Committee waived the governing rule that nations without an Olympic committee cannot send athletes to the Olympic games. Marial will almost certainly not be on the podium at the Olympics, but as the first Olympian for his new country, he will have won a different race.