The World Championship and Olympic Marathons are different breeds than the annual major city marathons.  Weather is often the overriding factor, usually for the worst, as the summer heat and potential humidity call for a different approach to both preparation and racing. Secondly, without pacers the emphasis is completely on place rather than time, often making for a more intriquing competition. And thirdly, due to the disparity in potential payoffs compared to the fall marathons, and the looming Olympic Trials process, the World Championship Marathon is often not quite on par with its track event cousins.

Again in 2011 several of the foremost marathoners in the world, mostly on the men’s side, are not participating in the World Champs in order to maintain their six-figure appearance fees in the fall.  Therefore, if the IAAF is serious about being part of the World Marathon Majors circuit, they will have to come to terms with their $60,000, $30,000, $15,000, $10,000, $6000, $5000, $4000 purse structure. World Cup team money is an additional 1st $20,000; 2nd $15,000; 3rd $12,000; 4th $10,000; 5th $8000; 6th $6000.

While those figures might be acceptable to track and field athletes who can continue competing on the Samsung Diamond League Tour following Daegu, the purses (and corresponding lack of appearance fees) become a financial disincentive for the crème of the marathon crop whose opportunities are limited.

In the women’s marathon, scheduled for Saturday morning at 9 a.m. local time -Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Pacific in the U.S. – the two top performers of 2011, Mary Keitany of Kenya (2:19:19, 1st in London) and Liliya Shobukhova of Russia (2:20:15, 2nd in London) will not toe the line.  The American team, as well, is missing the top ranks of their marathon potential with Desi Davila opting out of Daegu altogether (she gave up her 5000m slot to Lauren Fleshman), while Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher will compete Saturday night in the 10,000 meters, as all three back-time their marathon peak for the Houston Olympic Trials in January 2012.

Conditions:  Prognosis negative

As happened in the World Championships in Osaka 2007 and the Beijing Olympics 2008, Daegu, South Korea in 2011 promises punishing conditions for distance running.  Osaka 2007 was a sauna won by Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba in 2:30:37. Two years prior in Helsinki she took the silver medal in 2:2:01 to Paula Radcliffe’s championships record 2:20:57, dramatic evidence of the difference weather can make. (Chart below coutesy of stats guru Ken Nakamura)

5k         10k        15k       20k       Half      25k        30k           35k         40k       42.195 

`07 – 18:33 – 36:27 – 54:31 – 72:38 – 76:35 – 90:51 – 1:48:31 – 2:06:12 -2:23:37 2:30:37

`05 – 16:47 – 33:23 – 49:53 – 66:16 – 69:49 – 82:47 – 1:39:22 – 1:56:14 – 2:13:22 2:20:57

The forecast for Saturday morning in Daegu is daunting. As Norway’s Jack Waitz noted from Daegu, “Very humid. Combined with 75 degrees it will be brutal.”

Competitors were spared the cloak of humidity in both Beijing `08 and Berlin ’09.  Even so, the performance in Beijing’s heat by the late Sammy Wanjiru, an Olympic record 2:06:32, is what many have called the greatest marathon ever run. Fellow Kenyan Able Kirui set the World Champs record in Berlin `09 at 2:06:54, both showing heat alone can be overcome.  But the forecast for Daegu Saturday at 9 a.m. calls for a temperature of 73F/23C degrees, fog leading to partly cloudy skies, winds from the northeast at 13 mph, and humidity at 83%!

At least the course itself will not offer an extra challenge. A three loop affair – 2x 15km, 1x 12.195km – the loop starts and finishes in the downtown Gukchae-bosang Memorial Park, and is basically flat. The rise and fall over the entire loop is 20 meters give or take.

As to the contenders, China’s Xue Bai won in Berlin two years ago, with Yoshimi Ozaki of Japan and Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia following in close order for silver and bronze. China also won the associated World Cup (aggregate time of best three finishers) over Japan, Russia, Ethiopia and the USA. Unfortunatley, injury, will keep Xue Bai from defending her 2009 World title. However finishers two through six from Berlin 2009 will line up again in Daegu: Ozaki of Japan, Mergia of Ethiopia, Chunxiu Zhou and Xiaolin Zhu of China, and Marisa Barros of Portugal.

Favored Nations

     China focuses heavily on championship events, and their results prove their approach. They will field an experienced major championship team headed by 2010 Asian Games champion Chunxiu Zhou, who also finished 4th in Berlin `09, took bronze in Beijing `08, silver in Osaka 2007, and 5th as far back as Helsinki 2005.  The question with Zhou is age, not savvy, heat, or heart.  Teammate Xiaolin Zhu is almost as successful in majors, earning silver behind Zhou at last year’s Asian Games, and taking 5th in Berlin `09, 4th in Beijing Olympics in `08, and 4th again in Osaka’s heat in 2007.

     2009 World Championship silver medallist Yoshimi Ozaki leads theJapanese team, which, like the Chinese, put major emphasis on championship racing.  Ozaki finished a close second to Xue Bai in Berlin 2009, and won the 2011 Yokohama Marathon in February in a personal best 2:23:56. Ozaki has been training in Boulder, Colorado, even renting the house owned by 2001 World Marathon champion Lidia Simon of Romania.  Ozaki realizes she erred in 2009, letting the race come down to the final kilometer. She’s done up to 50k training runs on legendary Magnolia Road in Boulder.  This race will be a test of strength and heat management, and she won’t wait for a sprint, you can be sure.

The Japanese selection process was jarred by the earthquake and tsunami in early March, but the tradition of strong Japanese teams at major championships is very stable, indeed, heading into Daegu.  Joining Ozaki will be Yukiko Akaba, who also prepped in Boulder, winner in January’s 2011’s Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2:26:29. She then ran sixth in London in April in 2:24:09. Remi Nakazato took second in 2011 Yokohama, 2:24:29, and Azusa Nojiri finished 12th in London this April in 2:25:29. Mai Ito, second in Osaka, behind Akaba ran 2:26:55.

     Ethiopia will be led by Aselefech Mergia, reigning bronze medallist from Berlin 2009, and victor in Dubai in January 2011 in 2:22:45. Teammates Buzunesh Bekele
(2:23:42) and Atsede Baysa (2:23:50) were fourth and fifth in 2011 London, and Aberu Kebede was ninth in 2:24:34 coming off victories in both Rotterdam (2:25:29)
and Berlin (PR 2:23:58) in 2010.  Dire Tune rounds out the Ethiopian squad, winner in Boston 2008 and 2nd (by a hair’s breath) in `09. Last year she ran second in Frankfurt in 2:23:44. When asked after arriving in Korea if she had fall marathon plans, Buzunesh Bekele said she hadn’t thought that far ahead. She was focused on Daegu!

     Kenya will field a team of champions, led by 2010 Los Angeles and New York City Marathons champion and 2011 London third-placer Edna Kiplagat, whose 2:20:46 third at London makes her the fastest entrant in the field. Priscah Jeptoo tasted victory by winning the 2011 Paris Marathon in 2:22:55. Sharon Cherop, third at Boston 2011, also won at the 2010 Toronto Marathon in 2:22:43, has been coached by the redoutable Renato Canova who is also prepping defending men’s world champion Abel Kirui. “You don’t do any mistake, if you put Sharon in the list for a medal,” Canova wrote me before Cherop took off for Korea.

2010 Commonwealth Games champion Irene Jerotich (2:28 in the heat and humidity of Delhi, India) is a proven hot weather and championship marathon performer, while Caroline Rotich is a quickly rising Santa Fe based runner who won the 2011 New York City Half Marathon (beating Edna Kiplagat & Kara Goucher) before finishing fourth at 2011 Boston Marathon (2:24:26). Caroline won the steamy QC Times Bix 7 Road Race in late July showing she can handle heat and humdity. It’s a powerhouse contingent, for sure.

Not to overlook

Sweden’s Isabellah Anderson, a native of Kenya and third placer at the 2011 Dubai Marathon in 2:23:41 must be watched. A four-time Stockholm Marathon champion marrried to a Swedish orienteering coach, she’s been training back in Kenya, though it’s the rainy season there now.  Portugal’s Marisa Barros of Portugal returns from
her 6th place in Berlin 2009.  She showed form finishing 3rd in Yokohama (2:25:04) in February behind Ozaki and Nakazato of Japan. One other name to consider is Lishan Dula of Bahrain, 2:26:56, 3rd in 2011 Rotterdam, and coached by Ethiopia’s Getaneh Tessema. Must be ex-Ethiopian recruited to run for Bahrain.

     Colleen De Reuck, Zoila Gomez, Alisa McKaig, Tera Moody, and Kathy Newberry make up the U.S. squad. Moody placed 28th in Berlin 2009, leading the team to a fifth place World Cup placing. Zoila Gomez finished 51st in Berlin `09, and 35th in Osaka 2007.

Watch live Universal Sports coverage beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Pacific time.  Josh Cox and I will have the call.



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