Going into last year's Marathon, Jimmy Muindi had won the race five times, but that didn't matter to Ambesse Tolosa. The feisty Ethiopian was the only rival left to challenge the willowy Kenyan at the 35km mark, and the race got physical.
"He was trying to mess me up," said Muindi after last year's race, saying that Tolosa had bumped him and clipped his heels with is aggressive running style.
Tolosa, who had won both the Tokyo and Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathons last year, powered up the two kilometre climb of Diamond Head Avenue past the 35km mark, leaving Muindi behind and breaking the Kenyan's winning streak at Honolulu at three.
"The move he made was very powerful," Muindi later admitted.
Both of these athletes are back for the 35th edition of this storied marathon, the third largest in the United States and the sixth largest in the world with 24,575 finishers last year. According to elite athlete coordinator, Jon Cross, the enduring friction between Tolosa and Muindi will provide the competitive spark for this year's men's race.
"For me, I think the big story is the rematch between Muindi and Tolosa," said Cross. "There was some bumping out there last year."
Each athlete could use the victory. Both Muindi and Tolosa started the Fortis Marathon Rotterdam last April 15, a race which was so hot that the organizers had to shut it down midway through the event. Muindi failed to finish while Tolosa only managed to finish sixth in 2:12:39. Muindi ran the even hotter LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon last October and, although he made it past the 35km mark, was unable to finish. In addition to his Rotterdam run, Tolosa was third at Lake Biwa last March and 38th at the IAAF World Championships.
According to Cross, Muindi, 34, is very focused on winning this year. "He didn't bring his family this year so he could concentrate," said Cross. It takes about 25 hours to travel from Nairobi to Honolulu which is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Muindi (2:07:50) and Tolosa (2:08:56) are the fastest men in the field, but there are other contenders, according to Cross. Kenyans Lawrence Kiptoo Saina (2:09:52 PB), Eric Nzioki (2:10:34) Joseph Mutiso (2:10:34) and Boniface Mbuvi Muema (debut) could also contend for the $40,000 first prize. Russian 10,000m champion, Aleksey Aleksandrov, should also be in the mix; he is making his marathon debut.
Russia Vs Japan in the women’s race
Cross has fashioned a Russia vs. Japan match race on the women's side of the competition. In the Russian camp are contenders Alevtina Biktimirova and Tatyana Petrova with pacemaker Olga Romanova. Biktimirova, 25, who finished second here last year in 2:29:42, has both the experience on the Honolulu course and the fastest personal best time in the field of 2:25:12. Petrova, 24, the silver medalist at last August's IAAF World Championships in the 3000m Steeplechase, is at the top of her class in her specialty on the track, but is inexperienced in the marathon, with a modest 2:31:03 personal best. She does, however, have a solid road racing résumé, and made the podium at all four road races she did in the spring in the United States this year.
Team Japan is led by 2003 Honolulu Marathon champion, Eri Hayakawa, 26, with a 2:28:11 personal best. She will be joined by two athletes from the Second Wind Athletic Club, Kaori Yoshida and Akemi Ozaki. Yoshida, 26, won the Hokkaido Marathon in her debut at the distance last year in 2:32:53. Ozaki, 30, just set a personal best of 2:28:39 at the Tokyo International Women's Marathon last month, and is running here primarily as a pacemaker. However, according to her manager Brendan Reilly, she may continue all the way to the finish line she feels good.
"You can't count out Akemi Ozaki," said Jon Cross who pointed out that the Second Wind AC had also brought a group of recreational runners to Honolulu, part of the approximately 18,000 Japanese runners expected to take part.
Significant prize and bonus money is on the line at this race where warm and humid conditions combined with a challenging course make achieving fast times very difficult. In addition to the $40,000 first prize and prize money going five-deep based on finish position, a $10,000 bonus can be collected by the race winners for breaking either the male or female course records of 2:11:12 and 2:27:19, respectively. There is also a table of time bonuses which begin at sub-2:18 for the men and 2:38 for the women.
The weather continues to be iffy here; a big storm came through Honolulu last night causing some tree damage and scattered power outages. Fortunately, however, it probably won't be excessively hot, even if it is rainy and a bit windy.
"It's really hard to say," said Cross who has been following the weather forecast closely. "I'm getting conflicting reports."
David Monti for the IAAF