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2010 London Marathon Men's Race Contenders
by Sharon Ekstrom
Sammy Wanjiru |
Martin Lel |
Tsegaye Kebede |
Jaouad Gharib |
Abel Kirui |
Zersenay Tadese |
Duncan Kibet |
Emmanuel Mutai |
The pressure is on for 2008 Olympic gold medalist Samuel "Sammy" Wanjiru. The Kenyan star surfaced as one of the best runners in the world when he broke the half marathon world record at age 18 at the 2005 Rotterdam Half-Marathon (59:16). While he lost the title the following year to legendary Haile Gebrselassie (ETH), by 2007 he secured the title again, two times over, with victories at Ras al Khaimah (58:53) and The Hague (58:33). He also topped off the year with the 3rd fastest marathon debut at the Fukuoka Marathon (which incidentally is his slowest finish ever - 2:06:39).
His short yet inspiring list of accolades in the following years remains unrivaled – earning the fastest Olympic marathon victory in the heat and humidity of Beijing Games (2:06:32) and setting new course records at the 2009 London Marathon (2:05:10) and the 2009 Chicago Marathon (2:05:41, the fastest time ever run in North America).
This Kenyan, once coached in Japan, led the way for a new batch of younger, faster marathoners; but as a result Wanjiru now has stiff competition. Top performers from the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Rotterdam Marathon have trumped his fastest finishes and his half marathon world record was recently smashed by Zersenay Tadese (ERI). Yet, Wanjiru's main focus remains on breaking the marathon world record of 2:03:59 (2008 Berlin Marathon) currently held by legendary Haile Gebrselassie (ETH).
Wanjiru sets his mind to a task and keeps promises. At his debut at Fukuoka, he knew he was capable of a 2:06. At the 2008 London Marathon, he knew he would be right with the leaders and he kept with Martin Lel until the last few hundred yards of the race. He may have lost to Lel, but he took home the first gold medal for Kenya at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon which has been a source of national pride for the country known for top distance running talent. At both the 2009 London and Chicago Marathons, Wanjiru was certain of a win, but his biggest rival was the clock. He ran world record pace and in both instances fell off the mark at mile 16 citing fading pacemakers as the problem.
Perhaps three times is the charm with Wanjiru returning to one of the fastest courses in the world; but will he be racing the clock or his competition with such depth in the elite field - which includes Rotterdam stars Duncan Kibet and Abel Kirui (who at one time or another helped pace Gebrselassie to his fastest times in Dubai and Berlin) and Tadese. Wanjiru could be pushed to a new world record or be broken by any one of his competitors.
Martin Lel - WITHDRAWN
Attempting to claim his fourth victory of the London Marathon, Kenyan Martin Lel is a favorite in the field and a consistent performer with top-three finishes at almost every marathon he has run. Although his impressive podium streak was broken at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a 5th place finish (2:10:24), this Kenyan's collection of victories from the New York City Marathon (2003-2:10:30, 2007-2:09:04) and London Marathon (2005-2:07:26, 2007-2:07:41, 2008-2:05:15) remains impressive.
2009 started off strong with two victories at the 2009 Lisbon Half (59:56) and Great North Run (59:32-two seconds off his personal best); but ended early as a hip injury forced him to withdraw from both the London Marathon and New York City Marathons. Once the fourth fastest marathoner in the world with a 2:05:15 (London 2008), Lel returns to the distance with his personal best finish outside of the top ten. Regardless, his ability to take on the most competitive fields should be noted.
Lel is also the only athlete to go head-to-head against former half marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru and win. Lel and Wanjiru were one and two at the 2006 Lisbon Half, the 2007 Great North Run, the 2008 London Marathon, the 2009 Lisbon Half and the 2010 Mardi Gras Half. Despite past injury, if Lel's performance in New Orleans is an indicator that his strength and fitness are there, expect a top performance and possibly a historic fourth win in London.
Tsegaye Kebede, returns to the London having survived the 2009 edition of the race highlighted by a blistering pace, fastest half marathon split of a marathon ever run (61:35) and a number of surges from Sammy Wanjiru to hold on to a second place finish in 2:05:20.
Kebede's marathon debut led to victory at the 2007 Abebe Bikila Marathon in an unremarkable finish in 2:15:53 and his second marathon in Amsterdam was an eighth-place finish in 2:08:16; but his improvements made for a memorable 2008, Kebede placed 2nd at the 2008 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon losing to Patrick Makau (KEN) by just tenths of a second (59:35), won the 2008 Paris Marathon (2:06:40), took bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (2:10:00) passing fellow countryman Deriba Merga on the track in the last hundred meters and broke Wanjiru's course record at the Fukuoka Marathon with a victory and personal best time of 2:06:10.
After his 2nd place finish at the 2009 London Marathon, Kebede's streak of top three finishes continued with a bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin (2:08:35) and a repeat victory of Fukuoka bettering his time by nearly one minute (2:05:18). Comfortable in a high-caliber fields, Kebede will be added competition in the incredibly deep field.
Jaouad Gharib, two-time World Champion (2003 and 2005) and two-time Olympian, has a career of top finishes at London, Chicago, New York and Fukuoka Marathons. At age thirty-seven, when most marathoners are past their peak years of running personal bests, Gharib is still going strong. This veteran of the London Marathon returns for his 6th time, having run from 2004-2009 sitting out in 2008 to rest up for the Olympics Games where he finished 2nd (2:07:16).
At the 2009 London Marathon, Gharib was 3rd against a new crop of aggressive marathoners [14 years his junior] where he notably set a personal best and Moroccan National Record of 2:05:27. Other highlights in 2009 include a 2nd place finish at the Lisbon Half-Marathon (59:59 - 3 seconds short of his personal best from the 2004 edition of the race), a 3rd place finish at the Great North Run (60:03) and a 3rd place finish at the New York City Marathon (2:10:25).
With six sub 2:08 career marathons, Gharib focus and determination makes him a formidable threat to any field. Additionally, his aggressive tactics of throwing surges during the race and retaining a finishing kick will make him a top competitor; but will he be able to handle a faster pace?
Abel Kirui certainly came into form in 2009 beginning with an incredible personal best finish at the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon in 2:05:04. This 3rd place finish put him in the top 10 all-time best marathon performances. Part of the new generation of young Kenyans racing the clock, Kirui who had been one-to-watch solidified his reputation as a serious competitor at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin where he set a fast pace early on taking the lead and never fading. He won gold in a super fast 2:06:54.
But Kirui wasn't always a uber-fast runner. He began his marathoing career with some unremarkable finishes at his first two marathons in 2006 at the Berlin Marathon (2:17:47) and the Singapore Marathon, (2:15:22). A defining moment was when Kirui returned to the 2007 Berlin Marathon as a pacer aiding Haile Gebresalassie to his 2:04:26 World Record run. Race officials allowed Kirui to finish the race and he was runner-up in 2:06:51. Successful as a pacer, he did the same for “Geb” at the 2008 Dubai Marathon and the 2009 Berlin Marathon. In the interim, Kirui experienced his first victory at the 2008 Vienna Marathon (2:07:38).And the rest is history.
Kirui is now ranked eighth fastest marathoner in the world – one spot ahead of Sammy Wanjiru. He will stir up the top contenders returning to the London field – Wanjiru, Gharib, Kebede and Tadese will not have an easy victory.
The most decorated Eritrean in the world is Zersenay Tadese. Best known on the track and the cross-country circuit, he exploded onto the scene about five years ago and has collected accolades from a bronze in the 10000m at the 2004 Athens Games, a silver in the 10000m at the 2009 World Championships, gold medals from several World Championship races from the 20K to the half-marathon (2006-2008) and several top finishes at world championship cross-country races. So far in 2010, he added two world records to his resume both from the Lisbon Half-Marathon – world's fastest 20k (55:21) and world record half marathon (58:23). His win of Lisbon also dethroned Sammy Wanjiru from his half marathon world record title.
In 2005, Tadese set a world record in the half-marathon with a time of 59:05 at the Great North Run; then followed with a series of victories, remaining undefeated in the distance since. Although his marathon debut at the 2009 London Marathon ended in a DNF, Tadese is eager to take on the distance once again. Anticipation remains high to see this talent against such a high caliber field. As the world's best half-marathoners have been known to transition easily into the world's best marathoners, expect Tadese to shine at London.
photo credit: Olaf Kraak/AFP
It may be surprising to some that the Kenyan national record holder in the marathon distance is Duncan Kibet. Hailing from a country best known for a wealth of top distance runners, Kibet at 31 ran to victory at the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon and became the second fastest man in the distance of all time with a 2:04:27. What is truly amazing was that this was merely his 3rd career marathon.
Kibet, who specialized in the half marathon distance yet never broke 60 minutes, debuted in the full marathon at the 2008 Vienna City Marathon (Wien Marathon?) where he finished 2nd in 2:08:33. He followed up with a victory of the Milan Marathon (2:07:53) later that year. While his performance at the 2009 Berlin Marathon ended in a DNF and his two half marathon finishes earlier in 2010 at the Abu Dhabi Half-Marathon (61:00) and Lisbon Half Marathon (60:21 - personal best, 4th place) respectively, we have yet to see what Kibet is capable of in a deep field.
With three sub-2:07 marathons at 25 years of age, Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai may not be the fastest or a veteran marathoner, but his three 2:06 marathon finishes from his win of the 2007 Amsterdam Marathon (2:06:29) and his two 4th place finishes at the London Marathon (2:06:16 in 2008, 2:06:53 in 2009) make him a contender. While he still remains off the radar in top fields, Mutai's performance at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin showed his strength in the marathon distance, as he was one of the only competitors able to keep up with Abel Kirui's pace which earned him
silver (2:07:48) and led to a Kenyan team victory.
In 2010, like Duncan Kibet he has completed two half marathons – the Discovery Half Marathon (61:13) and most notably the Lisbon Half (60:03, 3rd place) where he beat Duncan Kibet, the Kenyan marathon record holder, by almost 20 seconds. Mutai has much to prove on the 2010 London course since he will rematch many competitors from his race past.