New York, N. Y. – The Marathon is a what – have – you – done – for – me – lately kind of sport. And in that sense tomorrow’s men’s competition in the 46th TCS New York City Marathon reminds me of the classic Game 7 of the Chicago Cubs – Cleveland Indians World Series.
By game 7 all the pitchers on both teams were on short rest, and it showed. Batters who were being dominated earlier in the Series (especially the Cubs) were beginning to drive the ball and score runs. That’s why it was such an exciting game with so many emotional ups and downs.
This year a number of the favorites in the marathon race, including defending champion Stanley Biwott of Kenya and 2015 World Champion Ghirmay Ghebrslassie of Eritrea, are on short rest from the Rio Olympics. As such they’ve had to shorten both their recovery and their build up for New York. We saw this play out last year in New York when Stanley Biwott came in as the only A-lister in the field who had not competed at the Beijing World Championships. He won the race.
This year Stanley comes to New York still dealing with stomach issues that troubled him in Rio. It seems Kenyan managers inadvertently switched bottles between athletes. So when Stanley went for his drink at 25 km it was the wrong drink, and he promptly vomited it up. Same thing at 30 km. Then he stopped and dropped out.
According to his coach Dr. Gabriele Rosa of Italy, “Stanley is not ready like last year.”
Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebrslassie arrives in the big city off a 4th place finish in Rio. But it didn’t come in a traditional way.
“At 26 km at Rio he had a problem with his groin,” said his manager Jos Hermens. “It was the first time that it happened to him, and even now we don’t know why it did. But it cost him four or 5 kilometers, and he fell back to 13th place before coming back up to finish fourth. He should’ve been in the medals.”
Jos further explained that his 20 year-old charge didn’t push to the limit, because just as he was having his groin problem the race leaders began their surging. So perhaps Ghirmay isn’t as compromised as one might think.
Ghirmay only took two weeks recovery before beginning to train for NYC. Plus, he got married a month ago, only taking two days off for the wedding before getting back to business. But that’s a lot going on in a short period to imagine Geb to be in top form.
The man with the full training load is Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia who’s been on the podium the last two years here in New York City, and has won two Boston titles and finished third earlier this year.
“After focusing on Rio but not being selected he was very sad,” said his coach Haji Adilo. “His morale was down, but we told him ‘you are young, and you can make the next team in 2020’, but it was difficult for him and he didn’t want to train. It took until September before we got him going again.”
Except when he dropped out of the 2014 Boston Marathon, Lelisa simply doesn’t have bad races. He won Dubai in January 2013 in his PR 2:04:45, then won Boston in April before taking silver at the 2013 Moscow World Championships in August.
He ran a close second at New York in 2014, then second at Dubai in January 2015 before seventh at the Beijing World Championships. His last outing was a third in Boston 2016. Wonder why the Ethiopian federation saw fit not to select him for the games in Rio.
“On Sunday I don’t think they will push, “said coach Adillo. “Everyone is just looking for the podium. The majority of Lelisa’s training has been the same as in past years, but maybe smaller speed. He has been averaging between 160 and 180 km per week. He has no problems, and he’s ready mentally now, too.”
The wildcard, if you like, is Kenya’s Lucas Rotich the 2016 Healthy Kidney 10K champion here in New York City.
“He is good,” he said his manager Michel Boeting. “He ran the Lake Biwa Marathon in March in Japan where it was very humid. He won in 2:09:11. Then when he won the Healthy Kidney 10K in May he knew we had a chance to run the marathon here in New York. He trains with Eliud Kipchoge and Emmanuel Mutai and others in the Patrick Sang group. if you look at his training partners, he has been doing better in training then a couple of guys who ran 2:05 and 2:06 in Amsterdam.
“He is confident, and wants to make up for Chicago 2015 where he did not run well in his first World Marathon Major finishing eighth and 2:13:39.”
It is not a deep international field in 2016 New York. But organizers have really focused on the American contingent in 2016 after the big success in Rio on the track.
Along with four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman and three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, lifelong Chicago Cubs fan Craig Leon is the top American returner to NYC from 2015 (8th, 2:23:52) and is riding the World Series high. Tyler Pennel, Matt Llano, and Mammoth Lakes’ Shadrack Biwott were the 5th, 6th, and 7th place finishers in this February’s Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles. And 2:10 man (London 2014) Ryan Vail returns to the racing wars after battling three stress fractures over the last year that kept him off the Olympic Trials start line. They will vie for a $25,000 American-only first prize as well as the $100,000 champion’s purse.
No guarantees of course, but the Americans are well-positioned for top 10 finishes on Sunday, top-five finishes, the podium, and even perhaps the victory. We will see what they’ve done for us lately come Central Park shortly after noontime.
You can watch the action on ESPN2 nationally 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., and WABC in the tri-state area from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
The broadcast is also available live on tablets and smartphones with WatchABC in New York and WatchESPN nationwide. Download the app in the App Store or the Google Play Store. Access to WatchABC and WatchESPN is available through participating TV providers.
I’ll be on the lead men’s moto. Three-time NYC women’s champion Paula Radcliffe will report on the women. Tim Hutchings and Carrie Tollefson will provide booth commentary while ESPN’s John Anderson is on play-by-play and Sage Steele hosts the whole shebang. Enjoy.