Tag: Abel Kirui

CHICAGO 2018: TOO MANY CANDIDATES ON THE BALLOT

Though it was a Frenchman, Michel Bréal, who first suggested that a distance race be held in the 1896 Olympic Games and be called the Marathon, it may be that fate, too, had a hand in the formulation.  You see, Athenian democracy, described as the first known democracy in the world, developed around the same fifth century BC time frame as the myth of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger whose run from Marathon to Athens telling of a great military victory over an invading Persian force was the genesis of our modern sport. And what is the Marathon but the most democratic of all sporting events where all are welcome to participate and the winners are decided by open competition?  It is in the light of that history that I make the following observation.

The 2018 BofA Chicago Marathon has set up another great open field for October 7th.  Announced yesterday, it is loaded with past and current champions from around the racing world. 2018 Boston, Dubai, Prague, Paris, Rotterdam, and Tokyo champions have all signed on. But hidden deep within that collection of mostly anonymous talent is something this sport has longed for since the days when Bill Rodgers first challenged Frank Shorter in the short mid-1970s window when both were at the top of their game, a great mano a mano duel. 

Here we have defending Chicago champion Galen Rupp and his former Nike Oregon Project training partner Mo Farah signed and sealed. It’s something the sport (and track and field) has been starved for and lax in developing for years, a truly intriguing match race. The last such match race worth its spit was staged in 1996 when Olympic long sprint champion Michael Johnson of the USA took on short sprint champion Donovan Bailey of Canada over an intermediate 150-meter distance in Toronto following the Atlanta Games. And though the race itself fizzled with Johnson pulling up lame midway, the promotion itself was a big success.

Now, for the first time in memory, we have two well branded Olympic distance medalists, men who used to be teammates, going head-to-head for the first time in the marathon, both looking to bust a fast time on one of the fastest courses in the world. Accordingly, Chicago is reinstating pacers after discarding that crutch following the 2014 race. And it makes perfect sense because both Rupp and Farah are past track burners who have yet to break through in terms of marathon times on par with their 10,000 meters PRs.

Here, then, is a natural rivalry that people might actually want to see, one that can be marketed, Galen versus Mo,m. And then they go lard it up with all these admittedly fast but anonymous extras who do nothing but steal the spotlight from the one thing that might get average people to stop and pay attention. Why?  Cause we’ve always done it this way? (more…)

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2017 LONDON MARATHON: A VIEWER’S PERSPECTIVE

Kenya’s Mary Keitany is all smiles at London Marathon 2017

This is a strange game, isn’t it?  Here we see the great Mary Keitany winning her third Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:17:01, and for the rest of the morning we try to figure out where her performance stands in the list of best-ever women’s marathons.

Now, forgetting all this mixed-gender, women’s-only, point-to-point, downhill  or loop course qualifiers, Mary’s 2:17:01 is the second fastest women’s finishing time ever posted behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, London 2003.  But on the coverage shown in the USA by NBCSN her time was referred to as the fastest time ever in a women’s-only race, bettering Paula’s 2:17:42 from London 2005.  But even that 2005 London time ranks behind Paula’s 2:17:18 from Chicago 2002. Confused?

When reading through the chattering class on LetsRun.com, and referring to my own 2002 journal when I covered the women’s race for NBC5 in Chicago, we remember LetsRun co-founder Weldon Johnson served  as Paula’s “escort”, if not rabbit per se.  But when Paula smashed that Chicago mark in London the following spring with her magical 2:15:25, she was also “escorted” by two Kenyan guys the entire way. (more…)

CHICAGO 2016

Abel Kirui over Dickson Chumba in Chicago 2016
Abel Kirui over Dickson Chumba in Chicago 2016

For the second year in a row the Bank of America Chicago Marathon staged a no-pacesetters competition. And for the second year in a row the men dawdled throughout the majority of the course until the final miles where it became a compelling duel between eventual winner Abel Kirui (2:11:23) and defending champ Dickson Chumba (2:11:26) both from Kenya.

On a perfect morning for racing the men generated the slowest winning time since 1993 (2:13:14, Luiz Antonio of Brazil) when Carey Pinkowski was still trying to resurrect the event from a near-fatal loss of its title sponsor and the ashes of the previous management.  But moderate finishing times is what will most likely occur when winning is held to be more important than running fast. And you can tell which is more important by where the money goes. Just like we first heard during the Watergate scandal, follow the money.

The win in Chicago was worth $100,000 for Mr. Kirui, but time bonuses wouldn’t have kicked in until 2:08.  So with no pacers in place to generate early momentum, the course record bonus of $75,000 for a sub-2:03:45 (Dennis Kimetto, 2013) was all but erased from the get-go.  

The way the incentives were laid out — forgetting for a second the hidden appearance fee arrangements between athlete and race organization — the value accorded a win in whatever time, in this case $100,000 for a 2:11:23, was of much greater value, and much easier to attain, than an eyeballs-out risky go at an extra $75,000 for a sub-2:03:45. 

It’s called imposing the narrative.  So until time bonuses are more heavily weighted in financial terms than simple placings, a non-paced format is unlikely to generate a fast time.  That‘s why Sammy Wanjiru‘s 2:06 gold medal win at the Beijing Olympic Marathon in 2008 was so shocking. He ran fast under difficult weather conditions when there was nothing in it except risk to run fast. But that was Sammy. Ain’t a lot of him around, and unfortunately, not him either. 

But were people any less enthralled with today’s men’s race in Chicago?  Interestingly, this theory of incentives does not seem to hold for women, as Florence Kiplagat defended her title in a sparkling 2:21:32.  But except in mixed races, women have not had pacers to get the rolling.  As such, they have always been racers.  But a culture of pacing as standard issue has developed over time on the men’s side in this sport. So when you pull the rug out, it leaves everybody a little unsettled. The sport has not developed racers over the last generation, as much as it’s developed runners. Which is why Meb Keflezighi has stood out as a pure racer rather than a time-trialer.  Abel Kirui, too, has proven to be a championship style racer with two World titles and an Olympic silver medal to go with today’s Chicago win.

For their entire careers some men have prepared to run behind pacesetters developing the physical tools to run a very fast rhythm before settling, gathering, and then pushing for home. This is how they prepared physically and psychologically, because that is how we were incentivized to prepare. In that sense the sport had developed physical talents, but not psychological ones. 

We heard a similar give-and-take after Matthew Centrowitz won the Olympic 1500 meter final in Rio in 3:50 (equivalent of a 4:07 mile). Some people said, “oh, that’s racing, time doesn’t matter.” While others were frustrated that the race didn’t go hard and produce a Herb Elliott-like record in the Olympic final (Elliott set a world record in the 1960 Olympic 1500 at 3:35.6).

Today, in Chicago on a perfect day the men went out and tempo’d through a 1:06:50 first half, then failed to even break 2:11.  Some fans may be left feeling disappointed about an opportunity lost.  But the sport has been so wrapped up in world records and talk of a sub-two hour marathon that pure competition alone won’t get it done for some people. We have taught racers and audiences alike that the only thing that matters is how fast they go.  And fast is fun.  I have heard innumerable times from Kenyan guys that they would rather run fast and finish fourth than win in a slow time.  And don’t you think there may be a few performance enhancement consequences to such a time-based focus?  

Only an extended period of non-paced racing can break the hold that an only-fast-counts mentality has created.  You just wonder if a no-pacers format might better serve the long-term interests of the sport and the Abbott World Marathon Majors circuit, as only the three American marathons hold to that format now.

Ironically, only time would tell. 

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KENYAN OLYMPIC MARATHON TEAMS ANNOUNCED

     Well, the word has come down from on high, and a little earlier than expected at that.  Originally scheduled to be announced April 30th, today at a packed news conference in Naiobi, Athletics Kenya named their highly anticipated Olympic Marathon squads.

Men: Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui, Moses Mosop

Women: Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo

“We have selected the athletes based on their individual performances after the major Marathon races they have participated in this season with a lot of emphasis on experience,” AK President Isaiah Kiplagat told the gathering.

The women’s selection held no surprises, top three at London, all of whom have performed well in recent performances before that, including reigning World Champion Edna Kiplagat and silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo. Two-time London champion Mary Keitany is, of course, the lioness herself.

The only other candidate with claim might have been Boston champ Sharon Cherop, the bronze medal winner in Daegu. But even her own team knew her Olympic chance came and went in Dubai in January where, though she ran a PR 2:22:39, it only harvested seventh place.  Regardless of her win in Boston, AK was not going to put someone on the team whose third marathon of the year would be the Olympic Marathon.

Men’s team was always the more intriguing selection.  But of the six provisional picks, only Wilson Kipsang performed at his best this spring, winning London handily.

M. Mosop 2:05:02 – 3rd, Rotterdam
G. Mutai DNF, Boston
W.Kipsang 2:04:44 – 1st, London
A. Kirui 2:07:56 – 6th, London
E. Mutai 2:08:01 – 7th, London
P. Makau DNF, London
(more…)

KENYAN OLYMPIC TEAM SELECTION UP IN THE AIR

Kipsang London Bound

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!

Now what? 

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?

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ANTICIPATING SPRING MARATHON SEASON

Kirui Stands Tall in NYC

Talking about too many good shortstops…First, Athletics Kenya went through a politically bruising process before finally deciding (IMHO, properly) how to select its men’s 10,000 meter Olympic squad (ATHLETICS KENYA TO STAGE “MINI TRIALS” BEFORE PREFONTAINE TRIALS).  Now, if the half-marathon wars this past Sunday are any indicator, the Gordian knot that is the Kenyan Olympic Marathon team selection just got a little tighter, as well.

With Peter Kirui man-handling the deep NYC ½ field the way he did – 59:39 front-running win in a duel against former Boston Marathon champion Deriba Merga of Ethiopia – the expectations for his first serious marathon attempt in Rotterdam Marathon April 15th are sky high.  Add on Stephen Kibet’s blistering 58:54 win in the Hague Half, and their match-up against 2011 Boston Marathon runner-up and Chicago Marathon course record setter Moses Mosop in Rotterdam is going to set the bar awfully high for the rest of the spring marathon season to follow.

Coming out of the extraordinary 2011 marathon campaign, the provisional crop of Kenyan Olympic marathon candidates stood at six: Boston and New York City course record setter Geoffrey Mutai, London record taker Emmanuel Mutai, Berlin world record setter Patrick Makau, Frankfurt near-world record setter Wilson Kipsang, and two-time IAAF World Champion Abel Kirui. It’s exhausting just listing the excellence.

But with Peter Kirui and Mosop meeting up in Rotterdam April 15th along with debuting half-marathon monster Sammy Kitwara (58:58 PR) and Stephen Kibet, what happens if Kirui, Kibet, or Kitwara knock one out of the park?  Since Athletics Kenya is less than reliable when it comes to sticking with its public statements regarding Olympic selection (IBRAHIM HUSSEIN CLARIFIES KENYA’S OLYMPIC MARATHON SELECTION) all the athletes can do is put their officials behind the eight-ball, between a rock and hard place, or any other conundrum producing metaphor by performing in a manner which compels AK to bow to the excellence exhibited.

Recall that Kirui was the pacer for both Makau’s world record in Berlin and Kipsang’s near-record in Frankfurt one month apart last fall. In the latter he was only scheduled to go 25K since he was coming off the big pace effort in Berlin. But when all the other pacers fell away in Frankfurt at 18K, Kirui felt a loyalty to Kipsang.  So he caught back up after stopping for 30-seconds, and paced Makau all the way to 33K.  Then, feeling okay, he jogged the rest of the way to a 2:06:31 time. That’s why the upside seems so high. What happens when he really trains for 42K?

As it currently stands, Moses Mosop, Peter Kirui, Stephen Kibet, and Sammy Kitwara kick things off in Rotterdam.  The next day Geoffrey Mutai defends his Boston title against Wilson Chebet, winner of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 2011, the latter in 2:05:27.  Six days later the final four of Emmanuel Mutai, Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang, and Abel Kirui duke it out on the streets of London against Vincent Kipruto and former three-time London champ Martin Lel.

With the stakes this high, and given pliant weather conditions, there is no telling how far under 2:03 we may see the marathon record fall after April 22nd.  And doesn’t that make for an unparalleled spring season for us fans, no matter how hard it may be for the chiefs of AK?

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WILSON KIPSANG MUDDIES KENYAN OLYMPIC MARATHON WATERS

Wilson Kipsang wins in Frankfurt

     As a less-than-100%-fit Moses Mosop held on for his 2:05:37 course record win at the October 9th Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I suggested from the lead TV camera bike that Patrick Makau’s new marathon world-record, 2:03:38, set in Berlin September 25th, probably wouldn’t last through next spring based on how much raw speed has been brought to the marathon this past year. Well, it almost didn’t last through two months.

Today in Frankfurt, Germany another Kenyan declared himself as a 2012 Olympic Marathon team candidate – and therefore medal contender – as Wilson Kipsang won his second straight BMW Frankfurt Marathon, coming within four seconds of Makau’s still drying world mark.  In doing so, Kipsang upped the pressure even more on next weekend’s ING New York City Marathon protagonists Emmanuel and Geoffrey Mutai (no relation), the 2011 London and Boston Marathon champions, as the waters of the Kenyan Olympic Marathon selection turned even muddier.

With two-time IAAF World Champion Abel Kirui almost guaranteed a spot on the team due not only to his excellence in warm-weather, non-paced competition, but also his willingness to forego a big-city payday to bear the country’s colors in international competition, and now two men going under the previous world record in such short order, how must the two Mutai’s feel as they step to the New York City starting line in Staten Island in one week’s time?

Already this year we have seen course records at each of the other World Marathon Majors:  Emmanuel Mutai’s 2:04:40 in London, Geoffrey Mutai,’s 2:03:02 World Best in Boston (not considered a world record due to IAAF point-to-point route restrictions),  Patrick Makau’s 2:03:38 World Record in Berlin, and Moses Mosop’s almost pedestrian 2:05:37 in Chicago.

The long-range forecast is looking great for next Sunday in New York City.  Weather.com is calling for a low of 44F and a high of just 53F.  The New York City record, 2:07:43, by Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Jifar, has lasted since 2001. But with the remarkable performances already on the board in this breakout year for the marathon, there is speculation that a 2:05 will be needed in New York to stake any claim whatsoever to the increasingly competitive 2012 Kenyan Olympic team.

At the same time, the field in New York is so strong – topped by Ethiopians Gebre Gebremariam, the defending champion, and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Tsegay Kebede, among others – that no man can be assured a victory, much less a free ride, since New York did away with pacemakers years ago.

This combination of factors – strong field, tough, non-paced course, and the need for a fast time to impress Olympic selectors – will put an even greater strain on the two Mutais who must balance each conflicting risk and reward in a delicate dance on the streets of New York.  A compelling 26.2 miles awaits, for sure. Can’t wait.

SELECTING KENYAN OLYMPIC MARATHON TEAM

IBRAHIM HUSSEIN CLARIFIES KENYA’S

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