Only one event on Sundaythe final day of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – but what an event: perhaps the greatest Marathon field ever assembled.
For several Olympiads since the advent of professional marathon racing in the 1970s, the Olympic Marathon has been somewhat downgraded by many of the leading men’s marathoners. There was more money to be made on the professional circuit, and anyone who wanted be run the Olympic Marathon had to devote at least six months to preparing for it.
But today the Olympic race has regained its importance – partly with the increasing worldwide attention devoted to the Games by the media, and perhaps partly because the World Marathon Majors series, with its annual $1 million dollar prize, has included the Olympic race in its scoring procedure.
Whatever the reason, the field is as strong and deep as any you are likely to see. “The Kenyans are serious this time,” says one well-informed observer. “Martin Lel, their Number One, is on a three-race winning streak – London 2007, New York 2007, and London 2008.” Lel and Samuel Wanjiru have the two fastest times in the field, at 2:05:15 and 2:05:24, and the third Kenyan, Luke Kibet, won the 2007 World Championships marathon in Osaka in hot, humid conditions like those expected here.
Only one other entrant comes in with a PB under 2:05; that’s the very tough Abderrahim Goumri. But he leads a team which includes Jaouad Gharib, twice World champion (at Paris in 2003 and Helsinki in 2005). There are also experienced teams from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Spain.
Finally, one should not overlook Stefano Baldini of Italy, one of the great racers of all time: Marilson dos Santos of Brazil, winner of the New York marathon in 2006, and Ryan Hall, winner over a difficult U.S. Olympic Trials course in 2:06:17.
If no-one from the above list wins, don’t be surprised. With 26 listed starters who have run faster than 2:09, this race is truly wide open!
James Dunaway for the IAAF