Talking about too many good shortstops…First, Athletics Kenya went through a politically bruising process before finally deciding (IMHO, properly) how to select its men’s 10,000 meter Olympic squad (ATHLETICS KENYA TO STAGE “MINI TRIALS” BEFORE PREFONTAINE TRIALS). Now, if the half-marathon wars this past Sunday are any indicator, the Gordian knot that is the Kenyan Olympic Marathon team selection just got a little tighter, as well.
With Peter Kirui man-handling the deep NYC ½ field the way he did – 59:39 front-running win in a duel against former Boston Marathon champion Deriba Merga of Ethiopia – the expectations for his first serious marathon attempt in Rotterdam Marathon April 15th are sky high. Add on Stephen Kibet’s blistering 58:54 win in the Hague Half, and their match-up against 2011 Boston Marathon runner-up and Chicago Marathon course record setter Moses Mosop in Rotterdam is going to set the bar awfully high for the rest of the spring marathon season to follow.
Coming out of the extraordinary 2011 marathon campaign, the provisional crop of Kenyan Olympic marathon candidates stood at six: Boston and New York City course record setter Geoffrey Mutai, London record taker Emmanuel Mutai, Berlin world record setter Patrick Makau, Frankfurt near-world record setter Wilson Kipsang, and two-time IAAF World Champion Abel Kirui. It’s exhausting just listing the excellence.
But with Peter Kirui and Mosop meeting up in Rotterdam April 15th along with debuting half-marathon monster Sammy Kitwara (58:58 PR) and Stephen Kibet, what happens if Kirui, Kibet, or Kitwara knock one out of the park? Since Athletics Kenya is less than reliable when it comes to sticking with its public statements regarding Olympic selection (IBRAHIM HUSSEIN CLARIFIES KENYA’S OLYMPIC MARATHON SELECTION) all the athletes can do is put their officials behind the eight-ball, between a rock and hard place, or any other conundrum producing metaphor by performing in a manner which compels AK to bow to the excellence exhibited.
Recall that Kirui was the pacer for both Makau’s world record in Berlin and Kipsang’s near-record in Frankfurt one month apart last fall. In the latter he was only scheduled to go 25K since he was coming off the big pace effort in Berlin. But when all the other pacers fell away in Frankfurt at 18K, Kirui felt a loyalty to Kipsang. So he caught back up after stopping for 30-seconds, and paced Makau all the way to 33K. Then, feeling okay, he jogged the rest of the way to a 2:06:31 time. That’s why the upside seems so high. What happens when he really trains for 42K?
As it currently stands, Moses Mosop, Peter Kirui, Stephen Kibet, and Sammy Kitwara kick things off in Rotterdam. The next day Geoffrey Mutai defends his Boston title against Wilson Chebet, winner of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2011, the latter in 2:05:27. Six days later the final four of Emmanuel Mutai, Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang, and Abel Kirui duke it out on the streets of London against Vincent Kipruto and former three-time London champ Martin Lel.
With the stakes this high, and given pliant weather conditions, there is no telling how far under 2:03 we may see the marathon record fall after April 22nd. And doesn’t that make for an unparalleled spring season for us fans, no matter how hard it may be for the chiefs of AK?