AGENT BRANSON STANDS UP FOR CLIENT MAKAU IN OLYMPIC SELECTION CONTROVERSY

Nairobi, Kenya-The announcement naming 2011 London Marathon champion Emmanuel Mutai to replace 2011 Chicago Marathon champion Moses Mosop (tendon injury) on the 2012 Kenyan Olympic Marathon team by Athletics Kenya president Isaiah Kiplagat at a press conference on Tuesday has opened a controversy. During the press conference, Mr. Kiplagat asserted that the reason neither 2011 Boston and New York City Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai or 2011 Berlin Marathon champion Patrick Makau were considered as replacements was because neither of their agents had submitted training and fitness reports following their drop outs at the Boston and London Marathons.

I arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday night, and spoke directly with Makau’s agent Zane Branson.

“When the announcement was made on Monday that a replacement would be named on Tuesday, Makau was expecting good news,” said Branson.  “But what Mr. Kiplagat said on Tuesday is simply not true. After London (where Makau dropped out), I came straight to the hotel from the finish.  At 4:30 p.m. I was in Makau’s room. We received a call, and it was AK treasurer, Mr. Kinyua, Mr. Kiplagat’s brother-in-law. He came up.  I explained to him the situation why Patrick dropped out. Then I left them together. He knew.  I also spoke with Ibrahim Hussein, AK assistant secretary, there and Mr. Okeyo, too (AK general secretary).”

“I am defending my client, not because he wasn’t named to the team but because Kiplagat made knowingly false statements yesterday (Tuesday) in his press conference. Patrick remains firm around three around pivot points: Continue reading

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?

END

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?

END

BOSTON VS LONDON MARATHONS 2012

    Again in 2012, the two springtime World Marathon Majors, Boston and London, will be staged six days apart.  Boston’s 116th annual sets off from Hopkinton on Monday April 16th  for Copley Square, while London’s 32nd annual begins in Blackheath headed for The Mall along St. James Park the following Sunday April 22nd.

Today, 27-year Boston Marathon sponsor John Hancock Financial Services announced the professional field for the annual Patriot’s Day race, while London’s race director Dave Bedford released his women’s field back in early December before travelling to Iten, Kenya to announce his men’s field on January 20th.

Both events are loaded, as the crème of Kenyan and Ethiopian running look to make one last impression on their Olympic selectors before final Olympic squads are chosen for the return to London in August for the Games.

Boston’s field features defending champions Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02, CR, WB) and Caroline Kilel (2:22:36) of Kenya.  London parries with defending Kenyan champions Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40, CR) and Mary Keitany (2:19:19).  Boston will line up five sub-2:06 men (see below), London counters with ten.

London also has the edge in terms of depth on the women’s side with ten sub-2:23 women to Boston’s five, yet Boston brings together five champions from 2011: Kilel (Boston) and Georgina Rono (Eindhoven) of Kenya, Firehiwot Dado (New York), Aselefech Mergia (Dubai 2012), and Mamitu Daska (Frankfurt) of Ethiopia. London may have fewer current champions, but is Kenyan top heavy with defender Mary Keitany going up against 2011 Berlin champion Florence Kiplagat, and her 2011 World Champion namesake (though unrelated) Edna Kiplagat. Continue reading

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

END

$500,000 WORLD MARATHON MAJORS TITLE COMING DOWN TO A NYC SHOOT-OUT

    As we begin the countdown to the November 6th ING New York City Marathon, there are several threads of interest braided through the men’s and women’s professional fields, both of which are laden with top-end talent.  Among these interests are the potential for Olympic selection for London 2012, and the World Marathon Majors© men’s division showdown and its $500,000 payoff. Today, let’s focus on the World Marathon Majors.

Now in its sixth year, the WMMs concept has yet to turn into the public relations focal point for running that the FedEx Cup has for professional golf, or that the Chase for the Sprint Cup has for NASCAR.  Yet, for the second straight cycle, the series has peaked nicely in the men’s division.

Of course, nobody who follows the sport will ever forget the epic duel between the now sadly departed Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Tsegay Kebede at the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The last 5K of that battle remains the standard by which all future final marathon miles will be judged. And a great part of the excitement was generated by the fact that the two tiny warriors were competing for a bonus anyone watching could appreciate, half a million dollars.  In fact, the prize elevated not just the perception of the competition, it elevated the quality and passion of the competitors, as well.

It is one reason I have argued, ad nauseum, for larger publicly recognized purses or bonuses in our sport. How much one receives for any endeavor in this society either validates, or invalidates, that endeavor by how much one receives for the doing it.  That might not be the path to heaven’s door, but it sure is the path to the American Dream. And if we want to attract not just participants, but fans to our sport, our champions must reap the same harvests as our sporting brethren. By maintaining low prize purses and hidden appearance fees, running all but guarantees an ignoring public, including our increasingly rotund kids. Continue reading

SELECTING KENYAN OLYMPIC MARATHON TEAM

     Say what you will about the American trials system for Olympic selection, how it discounts consistency or past excellence for a one-day, all or nothing performance, but how would you like to see a Kenyan Olympic Trials Marathon?  Now that might be a marathon I’d pay to view!

Think about the Kenyan men’s team for London 2012.  You can’t keep Abel Kirui, the two-time World Champion off the squad, can you?  Not after he destroyed the field in Daegu this August.  And after Patrick Makau’s world record performance in Berlin today, giving the 2010 World #1 three wins in his last four marathons – his only loss a third in London this spring after he took a hard fall at 22k – he has to be chosen, right?

Which means either Boston champion and course record holder Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02), or London champion and course record holder Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40) isn’t going to make the cut!  And that doesn’t even take into consideration three-time London champ and runner-up in 2011 Martin Lel, or Boston runner-up and track 30K world record holder Moses Mosop.  And forget about relative old-timers like Duncan Kibet, James Kwambai, the two Robert Cheruiyots. But what about current killers like Wilson Kipsang (2:04:57, 1st, Frankfurt 2010), Wilson Chebet (debut winner in Rotterdam 2011, 2:05:27), and Vincent Kipruto (2nd in Rotterdam, 2:05;33)?  How can they simply be dismissed?  Then think of the guys like Sammy Kitwara who have yet to try a marathon, but are brutes in the half (PR 58:58), and who you know will be monsters in the full eventually?  Talk about your embarrassment of riches!

But let’s wait till after this fall season, after Wilson Kipsang makes his defense in Frankfurt and Mosop and the Mutais show their wares, as well.  Can you imagine the kind of performance it will take in Chicago or New York to stamp a visa for London?

Florence lets it flow in Berlin

And the women’s squad is no selector’s picnic, either.  There’s 2011 world champion Edna Kiplagat. The Kenyen federation generally rewards those who run for the nation rather than rack up big city marathon wins.  Recall that in 2000 the KAA kept that year’s Boston champion Catherine Ndereba off their Sydney squad even though she’d beaten defending Olympic champion and three-time Boston winner Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia. Instead they gave the nod to Ester Wanjiru who came in third place in Osaka at 2:23:31 just because that time was better than Ndereba’s in Boston.  Ndereba heard about not making the team on the radio while waiting in line in a bank in Nairobi. Crazy.

So tell me how they can possibly keep 2011 London champion Mary Keitany off the squad now that she’s the second fastest Kenyan woman in history behind Catherine’s 2:18:47 from Chicago 2001?  And today Florence Kiplagat delivered on her promise as World Half-Marathon champion and record holder with a 2:19:44 cruise job in Berlin, besting world record holder Paula Radcliffe (third in 2:23:47) and two-time World Marathon Majors series champ Irina Mikitenko of Germany (second in 2:22:18). How’s that for a top three?

That means women like Priscah Jeptoo and Sharon Cherop, the World Championships silver and bronze medalists ,may be on the outside looking in.  And poor Catherine Ndereba, twice Olympic silver, and two-time World Champion is probably an afterthought again.

Please, Kenyan federation, forget the London Games.  Stage a Kenyan-only marathon trials and let’s see if we can get Jim Lampley and the boxing boys from HBO to call it live on pay-per-view.  Cause we’re not talking foot-racing, we are talking your heavyweight championship of the world!

END