There is even more on the line than usual at this year’s ING New York City Marathon. From the city and New York Road Runner’s recovery efforts after last year devastation and race cancellation due to Hurricane Sandy, to the million-dollar payoff in the World Marathon Majors championship, there are stories of striving and overcoming that will make for a dramatic and emotional Sunday morning November 3rd. Be sure to watch it live 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on WABC. It also will be streamed online at WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app. A two-hour highlights show will air on ABC later in the day.
My focus will be on the men’s race as I will call that competition from the lead TV moto. It’s the first time since 2006 that I will be out on the course rather than at the finish line anchor location. And though I will sorely miss calling what promises to be a compelling women’s race, the men’s lead moto is a wondrous perch, and offers by far the best view of the action.
Two story lines dominate the 2013 New York men’s competition. The question is how, or whether, they will intersect?
First, the 2012-2013 World Marathon Majors cycle comes to its conclusion with two men still in the hunt for the $500,000 first-place prize. Reigning World and Olympic Marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda arrives in third place with 50 points, 15 points behind series leader Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia, the 2012 Chicago and 2013 London champion. Alone in second place with 61 points is Berlin Marathon champion and new world record holder Wilson Kipsang. But Wilson is finished for the year, which leaves Kebede and Kiprotich to decide the issue on the streets of New York.
With the women’s WMM title up for grabs as well between two-time World Champion Edna Kiplagat and 2013 Virgin London Marathon queen Priscah Jeptoo, this marks the first time in World Marathon Majors history that the entire $1 million WMM bonus will be decided in the final race of the two-year cycle.
And to be honest, it could be that the women’s race will prove more compelling than the men’s as Jeptoo and Kiplagat are also the odds-on favorites for the NY title, and stand two and two in head-to-head match ups.
On the men’s side the favorite designee is 2011 New York men’s champion and course record holder Geoffrey Mutai, who is sits in ninth-place in the current WMM standings, and therefore is not in the hunt for the WMM title this year, a circumstance that may play to his favor.
GROWING THE BRAND
While still not perfect, the World Marathon Majors has branded itself admirably since Boston, New York, London, Chicago and Berlin joined forces in 2006. But in that span they have only seen one cycle championship play out as if scripted by Hollywood. That came in Chicago at the end of the 2009-2010 cycle with the epic Sammy Wanjiru – Tsegay Kebede duel, a knockdown, drag out affair over the final 5 km that riveted the sport’s attention like no race since the 2005 NYC dive to the finish between eventual champion Paul Tergat and defending champion (and diver) Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa.
So while the WMM men’s title will come down to Kebede and Kiprotich, that fight may well not be for the race win itself. Unlike Kebede and Kiprotich, Goeffrey Mutai didn’t race in the World Championships in August, and therefore should be fresher for New York.
We witnessed a similar scenario play out in New York in 2011. That year it was Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai sitting in second place in the WMM standings, five points behind series leader Patrick Makau who had set the marathon world record in Berlin that September (2:03:38). But like Wilson Kipsang this year, Makau was finished for the year after Berlin, and could only watch as the race and series played out in NYC.
In that race Emmanuel Mutai needed a win or second place in New York City to secure the title. If he showed third or worst he would open the door to Geoffrey Mutai, Tsegay Kebede or Gebre Gebremariam, all three of whom were in the race. So when Geoffrey Mutai opened his throttle wide at 20 miles and burned through the next three miles in 4:31, 4:30, 4:35, Emmanuel felt the heat and let him go forthwith –not that he could have matched him even if he wanted to. Perhaps nobody could have.
Geoffrey held that burn all the way to a 2:05:06 course record. Ethiopia’s Gebremariam made a futile attempt to follow Geoffrey for the first kilometer of liftoff, but soon fell back like a second-stage booster being jettisoned away. With Emmanuel Mutai measuring his effort more conservatively — after all, the WMM title was worth $500,000, the race win only paid $130,000 — he passed Gebremariam to take the necessary runner-up position in 2:06:28, under the old course record, but still 1:22 behind his unrelated namesake. Gebremariam faded to fourth place in 2:08:00.
With Geoffrey Mutai’s race schedule in 2013 mirroring his 2011 campaign – except for the DNF in London this spring compared to his 2:03:02 win in Boston in 2011 – and with his sometimes training partner Wilson Kipsang fresh off his world record in Berlin, and his more common training partner Dennis Kimetto polishing off a 2:03:45 course record in Chicago, Geoffrey Mutai may well be sitting atop an Atlas 5 rocket preparing for liftoff.
“Wilson (Kipsang)’s performance in Berlin has given me the extra impetus to do well in New York,” said 2011 New York champion. “I know the course is very tough, but running 2:04 can be achievable of the weather is good.”
The forecast seems squirrely here at mid-week. This is the latest for Sunday morn.
|Showers early. Scattered clouds. Cool.||High, 57°F||Low, 45°F||Wind, 19 mph / NW||Hunidity, 43%||Feels like 50°F||Chance of precipitation, 36%|
With but a few days left the 43rd ING New York City Marathon looks like wind may be a factor, but after last year’s Superstorm Sandy, anything less than hurricane force will be welcome as the field sets sets sail through the five boroughs.
The World Marathon Majors Men’s scenarios:
· If Kebede finishes first or second in NYC and beats Kiprotich, Kebede will win.
· If Kiprotich wins and Kebede finishes third or lower, Kiprotich will win WMM
· If Kiprotich wins and Kebede finishes second, Kiprotich will win on head-to-head tiebreaker.
· If Kiprotich finishes second and Kebede scores no points, Kiprotich will win on tiebreaker.
Tsegay Kebede finished third in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon. This will be Kiprotich’s debut. In head-to-head competition, Kebede handily beat Kiprotich in perfect weather in London this April (1st place to 6th place), but Kiprotich returned the favor at the warm and humid World Championships in Moscow this August (1st place to 4th place).
Something to consider is that Kebede had not intended on racing in New York, hoping a high finish at the World Championships might put him over the top in the WMM standings. When he could only manage a fourth place behind Kiprotich, he decided to enter New York. But that means he has slightly less pointed training for the effort ahead. That doesn’t mean he can’t pull it off, as he is a three-time major champion (London 2010 & 2013, Chicago 2012), and also a winner in Fukuoka and Paris.
For his part Stephen Kiprotich, like American star Meb Keflezighi, is known as a racer more than a time trial runner. His marathon PR of 2:07:20 from Enschede in 2011 is four minutes outside Geoffrey Mutai’s best and three minutes behind Kebede. But New York is a race without pacers, and though Geoffrey Mutai has mastered both Boston and New York, and set high standards in Berlin and Rotterdam, too, we mustn’t prejudge what only the marathon gods have a say over.
Plus, if history is to guide us, it’s interesting that the man who finished second in the previous World Marathon Majors cycle has come back twice to claim the crown the following year. In the 2007 –`08 cycle, Martin Lel won the WMM title after finishing second in the inaugural cycle to Robert K. Cheruiyot. In 2011– 2012 cycle Geoffrey Mutai earned the $500,000 after a second place the previous year to Emmanual Mutai. Tsegay Kebede has finished second twice in the WMM chase (2009 — 2010 & 2011 — 2012). Will this be his year?