The Fall marathon season kicks off in Berlin Sunday morning with both world record holders on the line anxious to prove themselves ready for the run up to next year’s Olympic Marathon in London. With Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie and England’s Paula Radcliffe sharing top billing, it marks only the third time in history that both the men’s and women’s world record holder will compete on the same day. In 1989 Belayneh Densimo of Ethiopia and Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway ran in New York City, and in 2005 Kenya’s Paul Tergat joined Paula Radcliffe in London.
Sunday in Berlin, both record holders arrive with questions and high hopes. The oft-injured Radcliffe is returning to marathon competition for the first time since finishing fourth in ING New York City Marathon in 2009 where she was compromised with tendinitis in her knee. In the mean time she has given birth to her second child, son Raphael, and then had to overcome post-partum hyperthyroidism and a bad disc in her back. Haile Gebrselassie is making his first return to the distance since dropping out in New York City last November in mile, also due to a knee injury. Though he rashly announced his retirement in the aftermath, Haille quickly reversed his decision, and even signed up for the February 2011 Tokyo Marathon. Another knee problem in training, however, forced him to withdraw. But he comes to Berlin with his old smiling countenance and good cheer, a sign he is in form.
Both record holders face stiff though few competitors. Paula will take on home country favorite and two-time World Marathon Majors tour champion Irina Mikitenko, the 2008 Berlin champion (2:19:19). Japan Mizuki Noguchi holds the event record at 2:19:12 from 2005. Like Paula, Irina is now in her late 30s and has been battling injuries of late, and really hasn’t returned to form since the passing of her father in July 2009. Sore shins forced her to drop out of London 2010 mid-race. She faded back to fifth in the final stages of Chicago 2010 in 2:26:40, and this spring in London she wasn’t able to match the 2:20 pace of the leaders, and finished seventh in 2:24:24.
Haile’s main competition comes from defending champion and 2010 world #1 Patrick Makau of Kenya. Winner in both Rotterdam (2:04:48) and Berlin (2:05:08) last year, Makau is probably the world’s most under-the-radar marathon elite to U.S. fans. A win in Berlin over Haile would change that, you can be sure. Both men realize the difficulty in securing a slot on their nation’s Olympic marathon teams, and both look to the other to help get him to the line quickly in Berlin. In that sense, the win is less important than the time, and both men concur.
Makau’s agent, Zane Branson of PossoSports Europe, sent me the following after yesterday’s technical meeting.
Today we confirmed that the pace would be 2:56 per km (4:44) through half way (62:00). Originally it was discussed that the target would be 1:01:40 but with the anticipated temperature during the latter stages of the race being 19-20c it was agreed that a little slower first half pace was less risk.
Patrick Makau’s preparation for Berlin has gone really well all summer. He did have some pain is his left knee two weeks ago that required treatment (lasting about 10 days) but this problem seems sorted now.
I was in Kenya (and Ethiopia) for a month this summer and Patrick’s frame of mind during his preparation’s for Berlin has been much better that it was prior to London earlier in the year. (Makau finished third in London in 2:05:46 behind Emmanuel Mutai’s CR 2:04:40 and Martin Lel’s 2:05:45.)
PACING: The intent is that Isaac Macharia and Henry Sugut will take in out in the from till 25km, with Geoffrey Kipsang and Boniface Kirui taking over with hopes of being able to get Haile and Makau to 30km on schedule. If Kipsang and/or Boniface Kirui start to struggle then I have Peter Kirui (pacing in 2010 Chicago, and 2011 Rotterdam til 33km -27:24 10,000 PB/59:40 HM) ready to move up and take over. If things go to plan then Peter will hopefully be able to get through 32-33 km on schedule.
(A note: Peter Kirui is the 2011 Kenyan National 10,000 meter champion, and sixth placer at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, finishing one place ahead of Galen Rupp.)
After the pacers are gone it is expected that only Makau and Haile will be left. Both guys have repeatedly stated that their intent is to run fast (more important than the win) because both are here to impress their federation selectors that they should be on their national teams in London 2012 (which will obviously be tougher for Makau). The logical strategy for this to happen is for Makau and Haile to work together throughout the finished km’s. I believe that if either decide to adopt a sit behind tactic then both are likely to to fail at their declared objective (to run in the low 2:04’s).
Overall, the weather conditions are looking favorable considering that the high of 22c is reached about 2pm, 6mphwind from the SE and expected humidity of 52%.
There maybe a second group (2:07+) for Felix Limo and Hendrick Ramalaa, with a 3rd group for the other capable of running 2:09.30, or so. But, i for one am not ruling out that someone (e.g. John Kyui of Kenya) couldn’t come up and spoil the party. However, both Haile and Makau are confident and both seem to me to be thinking positive.
Thanks to Zane for the report. Two Russian women will also be looking to stamp their visas to London 2012 with performances in Berlin. Between 1 September and 31 December the fastest two Russian women marathoners will earn automatic qualifying to London. The third position on the team will be selected by committee by April 2012. Veteran Lidiya Grigoryeva and up-and-comer Tatyana Petrova will have a go in Berlin. Grigoryeva has won in L.A. 2006, Boston 2007, and Chicago 2008. Her last marthon was a DNF in Chicago 2010, but she turned down an offer from Boston this spring to concentrate on Berlin.
Tatyana Petrova is a reformed steeplechaser, having placed fourth in the discipline at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The steeplechase has always been a good proving ground for road racers, and Petrova may add to that lineage on the women’s side. She won L.A. in 2009 in 2:25:59, and ran second in Tokyo earlier this year in 2:8;56. Both Russians know that three of their compatriots will be running on the flat streets of Chicago, so they cannot afford to run for place in Berlin.
The wild-card in the women’s race for me is Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat. The 2009 World Cross Country champion and 2010 World Half Marathon champion debuted in Boston this spring, but inexplicably DNF’d. If Paula and Irina let the race get too tactical, they will play right into Kiplagat’s hands, for she has the youth, she’s 24, and speed, she’ s the Kenyan national record holder at 10,000 meters (30:11.53), to do just the kind of damage the older two women could manage eight to ten years ago.
You can watch the race live on UniversalSports.com. Josh Cox and I will do a re-broadcast on Universal Sports TV from 5-7 pm Pacific time Sunday evening.