The turnover at the top-end of Kenyan marathon running is as remarkable as it is swift. With so many lean and hungry athletes preparing and dreaming back home, the kings of one year are quickly deposed by the predatory scions of speed coming up from behind the next.
This year’s Kenyan Olympic selection season – comprised of the Rotterdam, Boston, and London Marathons – is testimony to that reality, and another cause for head-scratching, both for the Kenyan Olympic selectors, and for the sport as it tries, in vain, to build personalities to market to its shrinking fan base.
Today, two-time Frankfurt Marathon champion Wilson Kipsang sealed his Olympic selection with a dominate win in London, 2:04:44, just four-seconds off last year’s course record, but clear of second place by a gaping two minutes and seven seconds, the largest margin of victory in London in 30 years.
The three other provisional Kenyan Olympians battling in London, two-time World Champion Abel Kirui, defending London champion Emmanuel Mutai, and world record holder Patrick Makau all came up well short of their expectations and hopes as non-provisional Kenyan Martin Lel took second over 2010 champion Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia in a kick 2:06:51 to 2:06:52.
We witnessed similar disappointments in Rotterdam and Boston. First, Moses Mosop, last year’s Chicago Marathon record setter and Boston runner-up, could do no better than third in Rotterdam (2:05:02) behind two relatively unheralded Ethiopians, Yemane Adhane (2:04:47) and Getu Fekele (2:04:50). Then 2011 Boston and New York City master of disaster Geoffrey Mutai wilted in the heat of Boston, dropping out after 20 miles. Though, how much the heat and missing a drink at 25k in Boston caused his demise is something the Athletics Kenya Olympic selectors will have to determine now that all but one of their six provisional Olympians failed to deliver when the chips were down and the stakes were high.
“(Geoffrey) Mutai is more complicated,” said Kenyan-based Italian coach Gabriele Nicola after watching Boston last week. “You don’t cancel last year. If Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui, Makau, or Emmanuel Mutai runs 2:04:15, then select them. If not…”
But only Kipsang managed a sub-2:05 in London. Two-time IAAF World Champion Abel Kirui ran bravely, challenging Kipsang’s mid-race charge, but faded to sixth (2:07:56). Defending London champion Emmanuel Mutai arrived right behind in seventh (2:08:01), and world record holder Patrick Makau dropped out before 20km.
As of today, Kipsang leads the Kenyan troops on the world marathon list, though still behind Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero’s 2:04:23 from January’s Dubai Marathon. Following Kipsang are Jonathon Maiyo (2:04:56 – 4th, Dubai), Mosop ( 2:05:02 – 3rd, Rotterdam), Stanley Biwott (2:05:12 – 1st, Paris), and Wilson Ekupe (2:05:37 – 1st, Seoul). Ekupe is the perfect example of the sudden change at the top of Kenyan standings one year to the next. Seoul this March was his first foreign race ever!
Geoffrey Mutai’s Dutch manager Gerard van de Veen told me that Wilson Kipsang called Geoffrey a month ago, and suggested they train together through their final cycles leading to Boston and London.
“So Kipsang came for two or three weeks to do long runs and speed work with Mutai. For both the goal is the Olympics.”
Here were the first and third fastest men in history willing to expose themselves to a rival in order to better their chances to make the Olympic team. Certainly worked for Kipsang, and who knows for Mutai? The whole Kenyan selection now is all up in the air. Kind of suggests a single Trials method next time, wouldn’t you say?