Honolulu, HI. – Oh, you could see this one coming a mile away. 18-year-old Kenyan Edwin Kiptoo was obviously the wildcard in today’s inaugural Kalakaua Merrie Mile. Looking up stats on all the athletes, it soon dawned on me that this kid had never competed outside Kenya in his life. Yet he’d been second at the 2016 Kenyan Junior World Trials, and had a 1500-meter PR of 3:38.3 that was run in Eldoret at 7000′ altitude on a track where 2012 Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop holds the record at 3:37.0.
“Shoot!” I said to anyone willing to listen, “this is the guy. He’s gonna tip this whole thing over.”
This “whole thing” was a Wahine vs Kane street mile (Women vs Men) held the day before the 44th Honolulu Marathon. The new event was the brainchild of long-time Marathon President Jim Barahal, with the idea being to get a sprint to the tape with both genders gunning for the win.
The Honulu Marathon Association stages another such Gender Challenge each spring at its Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon, and the format seemed perfectly suited for a road mile, too.
In year one the elite field was designed on a University of Michigan basis, which is where Jim went to college and medical school and where marathon race director Jon Cross went to undergraduate and dental school. They ran with 1983 Boston Marathon champion Greg Meyer and current Wolverine women’s coach Mike MaGuire back in the day in Ann Arbor. Mike’s lady Wolverines just took second in the NCAA cross country meet, and most of the milers in this field were Michigan connected, folks like Mason Ferlic, NCAA steeplechase champion; Erin Finn, runner-up in the NCAA cross country; Shannon Osika, Big 10 1500 m champion; Nate Brannen, ex-Wolverine and theee-time Canadian Olympian, and Nicole Sifuentes, another ex-Michigander and Canadian Olympian.
Former Wolverines men’s coach Ron Warhurst still coaches many post-grads, too, including New Zealand Olympic 1500m silver and bronze medalist Nick Willis, along with former American indoor mile champion Will Leer and Kiwi Olympian Hamish Carson.
Based on time of year and end of season fitness, Ronnie was figuring the men would run somewhere around 4:10 on the out-and-back course on a humid Hawaiian morning, and the women might be able to run in the 4:35 range. But nobody knew what to make of the young Kenyan.
The event itself was named after Hawaiian King David Kalakaua who was called the Merrie Monarch and was well loved for spreading joy around the islands. His namesake race began on Monsarrat Avenue alongside the Honolulu Zoo, proceeded west along Kalakaua, the main drag along world-famous Waikiki Beach, made a 180-degree turn after a half-mile, and finished adjacent to the Kalakaua Surfer’s Statue at Queen’s Beach.
So the women were given 27 seconds at the start, and they took off pretty aggressively putting pressure on the men to follow. 27 seconds later off went the men. But they didn’t look like they were getting after it like the women had. Then, after about 200 meters young Mr. Kiptoo stopped looking around for a gender leader, and put it in gear and instantly opened the gap on the rest of the guys. You knew right then it was going to be him against the women, with Nicole Sifuentes the likely target. She’d run a 4:23 at this fall’s 5th Avenue Mile in New York City, and was coming off a 9:01 indoor 3000 back in Michigan.
By the turnaround Nicole, Shannon Osika (4:27 winner of the 2016 Ryan Shay Memorial Mile in Charlevoix, Michigan) and South African 10,000m Olympian Dominique Scott-Efurd had 12 seconds in hand with Edwin Kiptoo moving up into fifth place. But that meant young Edwin had already lopped off 15 of the women’s 27 seconds. Die cast!
Down the final stretch along Waikiki Beach in front of the nearly 2000 runners who had preceded the pros on the course, Kiptoo flashed a powerfully elegant stride we can expect to see many times in the future in big meets around the world. He won by five seconds in 3:57.4, with Nicole Sifuentes holding off Shannon Osika for second in adjusted times of 4:02.1 and 4:02.5 (add 27 for their gun time). Nate Brannen took fourth in 4:08.1, with South Africa’s Dominque Scott-Efurd finishing in fifth in an adjusted 4:08.4 (4:35.4 gun time).
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was among the Merrie finishers, and everyone was treated to a post-event concert on the beach by Henry Kapono. All in all a most successful inaugural event to kick-start one of the world’s most glamorous and iconic marathons. But we should have seen that coming a mile away, too (or should that be Kiptoo?)
END – more pics below