The elite runners in Sunday’s Gold Coast Marathon received their race numbers from Australian marathon legend Robert de Castella at a media conference on Friday afternoon (4), but the question exercising everyone’s mind was: “Will anyone have Deek’s number on Sunday morning.”
De Castella had plenty of impressive numbers throughout a stellar career – number one in the world as the winner of the marathon at the first IAAF World Championships in Helsinki back in 1983, fastest in the world with what was then a world best at the 1981 Fukuoka Marathon, and a winner in Boston and Rotterdam.
But the number on everyone’s minds on Sunday will be de Castella’s Australian all-comers mark of 2:09:18, which he ran in winning a stirring duel with another 1980s marathon great, Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa, to win the Commonwealth Games marathon in Brisbane, a short trip up the road from Gold Coast.
A second number is 2:09:59, which would give the first sub-2:10 in Australia since that race. A third, is 2:10:00, which would break the race record.
Sunday’s race has been accorded IAAF Gold Label status, a step up from the Bronze status of last year and a recognition of the Gold Coast race’s determination to attract a top international field for the marathon, which is the jewel in the crown for a weekend of events.
Looking at the field assembled for Sunday’s race, all those numbers should be attainable. Marathon chief executive Cameron Hart certainly thinks so.
“In the past, we’ve had two go very close to it,” said Hart, referring to the all-comers mark, “but they’ve been runners out on their own.
This year there’s more, 13 who have a chance by Hart’s reckoning.
Crucially, they will be led for 25-30km by a pacemaker, the respected US distance runner Sean Quigley.
A sub-2:10 and successful assault on Deek’s all-comers mark looks like a very strong possibility, considering the strength of the elite men’s field.
Leading the way are co-race record holders: Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi and Kenya’s Nicholas Manza.
Manza, who boasts a 2:06:34 personal best from Rotterdam in 2011, also won that year’s Gold Coast race in 2:10:01.
The indefatigable Kawauchi, who has a personal best of 2:08:14 and seems capable of grinding out a world class marathon a month, equalled that record last year. The clock on the finish line indicated a 2:10:00 as he crossed, but the time was adjusted up after careful examination of the photo-finish.
Unwittingly, that set the scene for this year’s showdown but the race will not be a two-man affair with further 2:06 men in Gebretsadik Abraha Adihana (2:06:23) and Stephen Tum (2:06:35); as well as sub-2:08 duo, Japan’s Arata Fujiwara (2:07:48) and Stephen Kibiwot (2:07:54).
There are five more sub-2:10 runners rounding out the elite field and another handful with aspirations towards that elite territory.
Sun strategy required
“I think it could be a 2:07 or 2:08 race,” said Manza this week. Fujiwara went further, predicting the all-comers mark would also go.
The record has survived several determined assaults in the past few years. With the race usually run in sunny conditions and getting warmer, the sting is always in the tail of the Gold Coast race.
One sentimental note for Australian fans is the appearance of Lee Troop, twice a sub-2:10 marathoner, in what he says will be his final Australian marathon (he also intends to run New York later in the year).
With Deek handing out the numbers and Steve Moneghetti doing television work, Australian men’s marathon royalty is certainly well represented.
The women’s race is also strong, though not as strong as the men. Pamela Chepchumba boasts the fastest personal best, but her 2:25:36 dates back to 2007.
The Ethiopian pair of Goitetom Tesema and Yebrgual Melese (both at 2:26:21), Kenya’s Emily Samoei (2:26:52) and China’s Lamei Sun, who boasts a 2:27:55 from Beijing in 2012, are more likely to be the women who will contest the victory.
Race organisers have done everything right to assemble strong fields. The question remains: will the numbers fall their way on race day.
Len Johnson for the IAAF