If in real estate it’s location, location, location, in marathon running it’s weather, weather weather. People are eyeballing the weather stations like tornado chasers for this Monday’s 116th Boston Marathon. With this being an Olympic year, and decisions on Olympic qualifying still up for grabs in Kenya and Ethiopia, the two preeminent marathon nations of the world, much will be decided from April 15th in Rotterdam to April 22nd in London. And as Sean Hartnett of Track & Field News just reminded me, “the weather at all the majors was pretty perfect last year.”
Here in Boston, though, there’s been a pattern of a good weather year being followed by a real stinker – think 1975 Bill Rodgers American record, 1976 Jack Fultz “Run for the Hoses” 100 degrees. Not a good sign for Monday where, at present, the forecasters are calling for a high of 84F / 29C. If it comes up snake-eyes like that, pity the Geoffrey Mutai and Gebre Gebremariams in the field who know they need to impress their Olympic selectors to punch their ticket on to London for the Games this summer.
Without a single trials race to select their teams, the two east African federations will await the results of Rotterdam, Boston, and London Marathons from April 15th to the 22nd before making the calls. Right now there are six provisional men on the Kenyan squad, and four for the Ethiopians, all of who were the top four finishers in the Dubai Marathon in January.
“People back home in Ethiopia are calling them “The Sitting Ducks”, joked Global Athletics president Mark Wetmore who represents 2011 Boston third placer Gebre Gebremariam. “At first they said five would be named, then four. That’s why GG is here. Essentially, the Ethiopian federation said, the Ethiopian Olympic Trials will be in Dubai. But they didn’t tell the athletes till a week after Dubai.”
As we’ve laid out before on this blog Anticipating Spring Marathon Season, the stakes at the top spring marathons in Rotterdam, Boston, and London are sky high. Last year’s Boston runner up and Chicago champion Moses Mosop goes first on Sunday in Rotterdam. Word around town is that it will take a world record for a Rotterdamer to make the London bus. Mosop will be pressed by two very scary Kenyan debutants who have done serious damage in the half-marathon, Sammy Kitwara and Peter Kirui. Then on Monday Geoffrey Mutai defends his best-ever 2:03:02 from last year here in Boston. I asked him today if there was a difference in coming in as the favorite this year with all the pressure as opposed to last year when he was just another one of the top guys.
“For me I don’t see a difference,” said the Boston and New York City course record holder. “For other people, maybe they do see it. Every race has its challenges, and I know it will be a strong competition.”
To aid in his quest, another of the Kenyan provisional Olympic candidates, Wilson Kipsang, called Geoffrey last month suggesting they train together for the final 2-3 weeks of their cycle. Kipsang won the Frankfurt Marathon last fall in 2:03:42, just four seconds off Patrick Makau’s “official” marathon world record run in September in Berlin. Imagine two of the three fastest men in history hooking up to prepare? Kipsan, along with Makau, make their Olympic bid six days after Boston in London. Kipsang will have a much better idea of his chances after Mutai lays out his line.
A couple of injury reports to pass along from today’s John Hancock press conference at the Copley Plaza Hotel, including Mr. Mutai. Nothing serious, he claimed, but he did admit to having had a small irritation in his right foot. He tweaked it during the very hilly San Blas Half-Marathon in Puerto Rico in early February where he bested 2:04:27 marathoner James Kwambai, a former runner up at Boston, by one minute 20-seconds.
But the severe last 5K downhills took a toll on Mutai’s foot. He was scheduled to race the RAK ½ in the United Arab Emirates later in February, but begged off the race to let his foot recover. Though he did attend the event to pick up the AIMS/Asics Athlete of the Year Award. He also watched as one of his training partners, Dennis Kipruto, won the race. On the plus side, San Blas is a good indicator for Boston. Billy Rodgers was just outkicked by Henry Rono in San Blas 1978 on the way to Rodgers’ second Boston title. Mutai smiled when I told him the connection. He claims all is well now.
“If Mutai runs to his level, then everyone else is running for second, no discussion,” said Italian coach Gabriele Nicola, who coaches top women contenders Sharon Cherop (#3 Boston 2011), and Agnes Kiprop (#2 Paris 2011). “But if he is not at his best, then someone else can win.”
Also, 2011 ING New York City Marathon women’s runner-up Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia and the Bronx, was seen noticeably limping at today’s presser. Her husband/coach Worku Beyi said it isn’t serious, but Buzunesh herself admitted, “I am worried.”
Buzu is now being represented by Matt Turnbull who you’ll remember as the elite athlete coordinator for the Competitor Group and its Rock `n` Roll series of marathons and half-marathons. Matt told me the injury is to the outside of her right foot, and has been bothering her for a week.
If temps do climb high on Monday, it could settle the pace early, and turn the race into a fast charge home from the Newton Hills in. Friday morning, the forecasters were calling for a Monday high of 84F / 29C, a frightening temperature in which to race a marathon hard. But by 2pm Friday the same forecast was calling for a high of 70 degrees, but with scattered thunderstorms and winds from the southwest at 20+ mph. At 4pm we were back up to mid-80s. As always in the New England springtime, ask me again in five minutes. It could change again and snow for all we know.