Jimmy Muindi has been happily married for 14 years, but he has carried on a love affair with the Honolulu Marathon one year longer.
In 1993 he first came here with Benson Masya, another Kamba tribesman who had already won Honolulu twice in 1991 and 1992. Masya's agent, Zane Branson, brought Muindi, the 1992 World Junior Steeplechase champion, to be a pacemaker. Muindi liked this tropical city, the capital of the state of Hawaii, immediately. He's come back every year since.
"I felt a lot of warmth," said a relaxed-looking Muindi, sitting in the lobby of the Outrigger Reef Hotel on Waikiki Beach.
Muindi made it to 30km that year --Korea's Lee Bong-ju got the win-- but it would be another six years before he would make it to the top of the podium of America's third largest marathon. That happened in 1999, one year after falling apart with victory well within his grasp. He was with the lead pack descending Diamond Head Avenue with just two kilometres to go and the wheels fell off.
"In 1998 I was about to win it and I had a problem," said Muindi shaking his head. "My stomach was having a problem. I was vomiting."
Muindi's body seized up, and Mbarak Hussein got his first of three Honolulu victories. Muindi said this was his worst year ever at Honolulu.
"It was MY victory," he said. "I was so disappointed."
But the next year, in his seventh appearance at the race in 1999, Muindi had his big breakthrough. He was running with Hussein and three-time Boston Marathon champion Cosmas Ndeti in the final kilometers of the race. Victory was possible for all three of them.
"There came three of us," said Muindi, recalling his effort over the long straightaway to the finish in Kapiolani Park. "The finishing line at the Honolulu Marathon is very long."
Muindi got the best of his compatriots registering the first of his eventual six victories here.
"It was my best moment," he said smiling. "It was my first big win. It was very emotional."
Muindi defended his title in 2000, then Hussein won again the next two years. In 2003, Muindi won for the second time, then defended his title in both 2004 and 2005. In 2006 Ethiopian Ambesse Tolosa broke Muindi's streak after the two traded elbows coming down Diamond Head. There was no love lost between the two athletes.
"He was trying to mess me up," Muindi said after finishing second that year.
Tolosa crossed the finish line first again last year, one place ahead of Muindi, but was later disqualified for a doping violation. That elevated Muindi to the winner's circle for the sixth time, easily making him the most successful man in the 36-year history of the race (Dutchwoman Carla Beurskens won the women's race eight times).
This year, Muindi's toughest challenge comes from his brother-in-law, 2007 Bank of America Chicago Marathon champion Patrick Ivuti, who is married to Muindi's sister, Marietta. Branson and Muindi joked that Ivuti tried to keep his participation in the race a secret.
"Patrick didn't tell Jimmy that he was running here," said Branson.
Muindi, who wears his game face most of the time, broke into a smile of appreciation. "He is the toughest guy," he said. "We know each other very much. He's going to be good."
Also in the field is 2005 Boston Marathon champion Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia, who is trying to get his career back on track after failing to finish three of his last four marathons. He's the third-fastest man in the field (2:08:16 PB), so he can't be counted out.
Muindi, however, is quietly confident. No elite athlete has more experience with the course and he said his training went well.
"It is very much possible to win it," he said. "My training was very fine."
While Muindi's training was fine, the weather might not be. Heavy rain is predicted for the next two days here, and those rains may stick around through Sunday (14 Dec). Forecasters are also calling for strong trade winds which could also slow the race.
David Monti – Race Results Weekly – for the IAAF