Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang delivered an apt summary of the quality of the men’s field for Sunday’s Commerzbank Frankfurt Marathon when he likened the last few days of build-up to awaiting an important academic examination.
The Commerzbank Frankfurt Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
“For me, it’s a great privilege to run with these kinds of guys. When I look at the times they’ve run, I think with my performances for the half marathon and shorter road races, they could spur me on to another level.”
Kipsang admits he learned much from what was nevertheless a highly creditable marathon debut in Paris in April, finishing third in 2:07:10. What was the most important lesson? “I run best with even pace, too much variation makes it harder.” With an impressive half marathon best of 58:59, the Iten-based athlete is confident he can take his performance to another level.
Sharing joint honours as the fastest men in the field with a personal best of 2:06:41 are the Kenyan Elijah Keitany, who set that time as runner-up in Amsterdam in 2009 and Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola. The latter won the Paris title in a lifetime best in April and has plenty of incentive to celebrate his 23rd birthday on Sunday. The winner will collect 15,000 Euros while breaking the course record of 2:06:14, set by Kenya’s Gilbert Kirwa last year, will earn a further 75,000 Euros, making this, the 29th edition of Germany’s oldest marathon, a rich prize indeed.
Tadese Tola makes light of any suggestion that he is a strong favourite, despite being given the number seven to wear by the elite race co-ordinator Christoph Kopp, a traditional recognition as being an athlete to watch in Frankfurt.
“In my country, the number seven doesn’t mean anything in particular. But I think that as Sunday is my birthday, it may turn out lucky for me.”
The leading men’s group are setting their sights on reaching halfway in 1:02:50 which would be a fine base to attack the men’s course record. But if it comes to a close finish in Frankfurt’s glorious Festhalle or Festival Hall, Sylvester Teimet has shown he can time a late run to perfection.
The Kenyan ran his personal best of 2:06:49 to win the Seoul Marathon in March, playing cat and mouse – he took the feline role – with last year’s Frankfurt winner Gilbert Kirwa. Teimet waited till 200 metres from the finish before surging to victory.
“I would do the same thing here on Sunday, wait and then attack. I’ve heard the course is fast and if conditions are ideal, I think I could improve my best by over half a minute, perhaps even break the course record.”
The Frankfurt organisers have made a point of boosting the strength in depth of the women’s field this year. Dire Tune of Ethiopia, champion in Boston in 2008 and deprived by one second of a repeat victory the following year by Kenya’s Selina Kosgei, is the fastest with 2:24:40. Only two weeks ago she won a silver medal at the World Half Marathon Championships in Nanning in China but says Frankfurt has held equal importance in her long term plans.
“Our training has been balanced between the Half Marathon Championships and full marathon. Running the half marathon should help me run well in Frankfurt.”
Tune and her fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba - number F7 - share the same coach, Hayi Adillo, who maintains that both have looked equally strong in preparation. That must be impressive indeed, since Dire Tune has requested a pacemaking schedule of 70:30 or even 70:00 at halfway, a comment which startled the assembled press corps but which was confirmed upon second asking.
As with Dire Tune, Mare Dibaba knows that the Ethiopian federation are considering prospects for their marathon squad at next year’s World Championships in Daegu, Korea. As coach Adillo bluntly commented: “They know that if they run under 2:23 here and no-one later runs faster, they’ll have a very good chance of being selected!”
Such a time would smash to smithereens the course record of 2:25:12, achieved by the Russian Alevtina Biktimirova five years ago. Last year’s winner, Agnes Kiprop of Kenya, sounded cautious in response, rating her own prospects of retaining the title as “Maybe 50-50.”
Kiprop, whose best is 2:26:22 from winning in Turin last year, might well draw upon a psychological trick or two. Her training group at home in Iten includes Selina Kosgei, conqueror of Tune by the tightest of margins in the 2009 Boston Marathon. Another member of that group could well spring a surprise on Sunday: Hilda Kibet, Kenyan-born but a Dutch citizen for the past three years, has the endurance pedigree, including a European Cross Country title in 2008, to improve greatly on her marathon best of 2:30:33 for third place in Amsterdam last year.
Andy Edwards for the IAAF