Former Steeplechasers Reuben Kosgei of Kenya and Austrians Günther Weidlinger and Andrea Mayr are at the centre of attention before Sunday’s Vienna City Marathon.
Austria’s biggest one-day sporting event - an IAAF Silver Label Road Race - will be a unique race in the history of the major international city marathons, because the elite runners will be debutants only. More than 28,000 runners from 100 nations have entered the race, including shorter events while around 300,000 spectators are expected to turn up on Sunday morning.
Such is the hype in the capital regarding the Marathon debuts of their national running heroes that organisers have decided to start the elite race one minute ahead of time. As Race Director Wolfgang Konrad explained this is seen as the only way to insure a safe and undisturbed race for Weidlinger and Mayr. Otherwise too many fun runners were expected to try to run next to their heroes as long as possible from the start, trying to be spotted running with them on TV. Media attention seems to be bigger than before as well. This is probably because Weidlinger and Mayr could both cause a surprise in the debutants’ only race. Taking most of the room available on the front page national paper ‘Kronenzeitung’ published an aerial view photo of the start of the race already on Wednesday.
Kosgei looking for solid outing...
It will be almost nine years after winning the Olympic gold in the 3000m Steeplechase that Kosgei turns to the Marathon.
"At 29 I am at the right age to switch to the marathon. I want to be as successful on the road as I was on the track,” said the Kenyan, who will meet another former Steeplechaser, who also achieved his biggest success in that Olympic final in Sydney: Weidlinger, who was eighth back in 2000. “For many years Günther was a very good Steeplechaser, but the marathon on Sunday is something completely different. We don’t know yet who will be the better marathon runner,” Kosgei added.
Kosgei’s step up to the Marathon is quite a courageous one, because he switches directly from the Steeplechase to the classic distance.
“My last race was a Steeplechase last year. I did not do any other road races and wanted to go straight to the marathon.” Although he did not start preparations for the Vienna City Marathon until a good three months ago he has done training runs of up to 38 kilometres. Kosgei will run in a group with pacemakers targeting a 2:10 finish on Sunday.
... Weidlinger more cautious
Weidlinger will chose a more careful approach, but he is targeting a record, the Austrian marathon best which stands at 2:12:22. The mark was set in Vienna by Gerhard Hartmann back in 1986. If Weidlinger should succeed he will become the first runner in Austrian athletics history to hold all the major national long distance records from the steeplechase upwards to the 42.195 k.
“Of course there is quite some pressure because of this record. The expectations in Austria are really high regarding this,” Weidlinger explained. “But there was no way that I could have avoided it. No one would have believed me if I had said I just wanted to run 2:15. Even now journalists ask again and again if I am not targeting a time of around 2:10.”
But on Sunday this faster time will not be on the Weidlinger's schedule. “If I could break the Austrian record at my debut that would be perfect. Regarding my future marathon career I certainly hope that one day my name will appear in the top lists with a time below 2:10.”
“I have trained really well and actually I liked the training despite the high mileage,” said Weidlinger, who is coached by his father Heinrich. He covered about 4400 kilometres of training in his six-and-a-half month build-up for the race. His maximum mileage per week was 225k and his longest run was 37k. These are pretty good marks for a debutant.
“I am not afraid of the marathon, but I have respect. If I would be afraid then I would not run well,” said Weidlinger, who believes that in theory he could still run very well in the steeple as well. “I think a sub 8:15 would be possible. But this chapter was finished after running in the World Athletics Final in 2007,” said the Austrian record holder (8:10.83), who placed eighth in the 2000 Olympic final and then horribly thrashed his face on a barrier in the Osaka World Championships in 2007.
... while others eyeing sub-2:08
Neither Kosgei nor Weidlinger are expected to run in the leading group on Sunday. Because several Kenyan debutants will target much faster times. One who has asked for a 64 minute halfway pace is Joseph Maregu. The 31-year-old has a promising personal half marathon best of 59:45 minutes from 2007. Last year he was ninth at the World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janeiro and had run 59:52 in Rotterdam earlier. “These half marathon results give me confidence regarding the marathon. I want to start my marathon career with a good time and hope to go for 2:07,” Maregu said.
Another targeting a 2:07 to 2:08 debut time is Jonathan Maiyo. The 21-year-old has run very good half marathons as well, clocking 1:00:10 and 1:00:12 in Rotterdam in 2007 and 2008. “Additionally I have some sort of marathon experience, because I have been running in big events as a pacemaker,” Maiyo explained. The Kenyan paced Haile Gebrselassie until the half way point during his Berlin World record race in 2008. Additionally he had been the pacemaker in Rotterdam in 2008 until the half marathon.
Women's race - Mekonnen targetting 2:25
The women’s race looks to be less spectacular. But this might change on Sunday. Ethiopia’s Tiruwork Mekonnen, who has a personal half marathon best of 1:13:34 from the difficult course of the Egmond Half Marathon, has asked for pacemaker guiding her to a 2:25 finish. To beat 2:30 will be the goal of Esther Mutuku. “I am looking forward to my first marathon,” said the 24-year-old Kenyan, who has a Half Marathon best of 1:12:28.
Mayr, who lives in Vienna, is targeting 2:35, but there are indications that her form might be good enough to run much faster at her debut. Asked about faster times the 29-year-old refused to make predictions. But she said that her training has gone very well and she has a great running background: Having started with middle and long distances on the track, she is the national record holder in the 3000m Steeplechase, she has contested Cross Country races, she is Austria’s fastest half marathon runner ever (1:12:14), one of the strongest mountain runners worldwide, and on top of that she is the holder of the course record of the Empire States Building Run-up in New York City.
“I am really looking forward to this race because people will cheer me on in my hometown. It will be something special.”
Mayr doesn't care much about her rivals and about possible chances concerning a top place in this race. “I will not study my opponents beforehand. I simply want to run a good time and a fine debut marathon,” Mayr said. But she might well end up achieving one of the greatest results of Austrian women’s running in the history of the Vienna City Marathon.
For the first time the Vienna City Marathon will be shown live on the internet here.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF