The 2015 marathon year began where 2014 left off with Kenyans and Ethiopians sweeping the top places at the Xiamen Marathon in China. Moses Mosop, the big-engine Kenyan who had such an explosive 2011 campaign — but who had been beset by injury and personal issues in the last few years — returned to form in Xiamen with a course record 2:06:19 win.
2. Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:06:54
3. Abrha Milaw (ETH) 2:08:09
4. Robert Kwambai (KEN) 2:08:18
5. Tadese Tola (ETH) 2:10:30
On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba continued her success from 2014 when she also began the year with a win in Xiamen before showing third in Boston then placing second in Chicago — though those places will likely move up one notch once the Rita Jeptoo drug positive has been adjudicated. Dibaba went 2:19:52 in Xiamen yesterday to destroy her competition & post the event’s first female sub-2:20.
Last year, after the final pacer pulled off course at 30 kilometers, Kenya’s Wesley Korir shattered the integrity of the Chicago Marathon lead pack, ripping a sudden tear in the fabric of the race by accelerating past an aid station as others peeled off for their liquids. But as he told me yesterday, “Even when I made that move, I was thinking of (Moses) Mosop. I expected him to go by me, and when he did I gave up, and was happy with second place.”
What Korir just described is the Alpha Effect, the psychological control a single athlete has on his competitors by nothing more than his very presence. The power an Alpha has over other runners can corrupt even their best moves before they have been played out. Last year in Chicago Kenya’s Moses Mosop, arriving as the 2:03:06 Boston Marathon runner up and world record holder at 30K on the track, was the Alpha male. We’ve seen them through the years, men like Toshihiko Seko, Rob de Castella, Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie, the athletes who everyone else has their eye on, waiting to see what he does, controlling the race no matter where he may be in the pack.
The professional athletes of the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon met with the press corps yesterday at the host Chicago Hilton Hotel. Outside, the burly American city known for its architecture, music, and neighborhoods lay shrouded beneath low-hanging weather moving restlessly east out along the great lakeside where the bulk of the race will be contested this Sunday. (more…)
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…)
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!
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?
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?
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.
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 EmmanuelMutai (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?
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!