As an electrifying 2013 marathon season draws to a close, the 2013 ING New York City Marathon – an IAAF Gold Label Road Race – on Sunday (3) looks like a flashback to the last record-breaking Marathon year of 2011.
There’s a good reason for that. Because of the last-minute cancellation of the 2012 race in the aftermath of the super-storm known as Sandy, New York’s “defending champions”, Firehiwot Dado and Geoffrey Mutai, have held their titles for two years. Both return, two years later, but the marathon-running world has changed around them.
“Wait until next year” is a cry often associated with losing teams in other sports, but for Mutai the extra year may have been a blessing. After breaking course records in both Boston and New York in 2011 – the former in a jaw-dropping 2:03:02 which makes him the fastest marathon runner ever under any conditions – his 2012 season often seemed like a procession of disappointments, most notably an injury-plagued DNF in Boston, though he did clock a victory in Berlin in the autumn, perhaps in the end relieved not to be defending his title in New York.
While his marathon running has been unimpressive in 2013, two indicators suggest that Mutai might be ready to light up the scoreboard again in New York. First, his results in shorter races have been on a par with his performances in 2011, the year he ran 2:05:06 to take more than two minutes off the old record for New York’s five-borough course. And second, his training partners have run the table of the other autumn World Marathon Majors, with Wilson Kipsang running a World record of 2:03:23 (pending ratification) in Berlin and Dennis Kimetto following up with a course record of 2:03:45 in Chicago.
Mutai now has the motivation and opportunity to put a flourish on the season with a win – ideally a fast one – in New York.
He is far from alone on the starting line, however, and with no designated pacemakers in the race, a fast pace will be driven by pure competitiveness. Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich may take pride of place simply due to the titles he carries: Olympic champion, World champion, the first man to hold both titles at once since Gezahegne Abera a dozen years before him.
Kiprotich is turning around quickly after a winning run in hot conditions in Moscow, but New York has been friendly to such rebound runs in the past, with Meb Keflezighi and Paula Radcliffe both notably doubling back to race well after summer championships.
As the last race of the World Marathon Majors cycle for 2012-2013, New York will also decide the disposition of the USD $500,000 jackpot between Kiprotich and current leader Tsegaye Kebede. Kebede is a legitimate contender for the victory, as the victor in London this spring and Chicago last autumn and indeed, nearly any marathon he enters.
However, like Kiprono, he is doubling back from the World Championships Marathon, where he finished fourth, one of his most disappointing Marathons to date. To win the Majors bonus, he need only finish within one place of Kiprono, so in the end Mutai may hope to benefit from Kiprotich and Kebede’s preoccupation with each other.
Such is the volatility of this field, however, that Mutai, Kiprono, and Kebede might all be missing from the podium when all is said and done.
Stanley Biwott has a 2:05:12 PB from Paris and has been tabbed as ready for a signal victory. Martin Lel, a multi-time former victor here in New York, might be ready for yet another. And the seemingly ageless Keflezighi (actually 38), fourth in the London Olympic Marathon and the winner here in 2009, seems to run best when underestimated.
Four-way battle in women’s race
While the men may have a wide variety of potential victors, there is unanimity around the likely pace: fast. The women’s field may have fewer potential contenders, but less consensus around the likely strategy.
The same four names keep coming up: defending champion Firehiwot Dado, 2011 runner-up Buzunesh Deba, two-time World champion Edna Kiplagat, and London Marathon winner Priscah Jeptoo. The four have widely varied experience, with fast races in good conditions and slower victories on challenging courses like New York’s in their backgrounds.
Kiplagat, herself a New York victor in 2010, may have pride of place in this group. In the oppressive heat of a Moscow summer afternoon, Kiplagat this summer became the only woman to successfully defend a World title in the Marathon. Add to that her sub-2:20 credentials as a runner-up in London in spring 2012, and Kiplagat clearly has all the tools needed to succeed in New York. The open question is whether she will have fully recovered from the challenging conditions in Moscow.
Or, whether she has the speed of her countrywoman Jeptoo. The 29-year-old has a 2:20:14 PB from winning the London Marathon this spring, but can also claim to have defeated both Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar in the same race, the Great North Run Half-marathon earlier this autumn.
Jeptoo has never finished outside of the top three in the eight Marathons she has contested to date, but her weakness may be the New York course, with its bridges, turns, and rolling closing miles.
Dado and Deba, part of the same training group in Ethiopia before Deba came to the USA, know about Kenyans with fast credentials. The pair watched Mary Keitany set out on a blistering, almost suicidal early pace in 2011 and then return to sight somewhat the worse for wear. Despite uneven records in the two years since their doubles act in New York, they both claimed high confidence for 2013 in a press conference on Wednesday, and Deba, who lives and trains in the Bronx, still hopes to be the first New York City resident since the 1970s to win the New York City Marathon.
In 2012 New York, struggling with the aftermath of a storm which flooded much of lower Manhattan and caused damage some neighbourhoods have yet to be able to repair, wasn’t ready for a major sporting event on its streets, and became the first of a bruising series of bad-news Marathons. Now, in 2013, the collected talent and intrigue of both fields promises to put the good news back in the lead, and make another start at repairing a little more of the storm’s damage.
Parker Morse for the IAAF