Reigning champions Stanley Biwott and Mary Keitany were in buoyant mood ahead of Sunday’s (6) TCS New York City Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
The last time both the men's and women's winners retained their titles at the New York City Marathon was in 1995 when German Silva and Tegla Loroupe successfully defended their crowns.
Though both Biwott and Keitany have strong chances of doing likewise – and, in the process, securing a fourth consecutive Kenyan sweep of the men’s and women’s titles – the quality and depth of fields assembled for the final Marathon Major of the year mean neither can leave anything to chance.
At Friday’s press conference, Biwott was coy about his chances of retaining his crown, citing the shape of his rivals as an unknown. Yet he was not short of confidence about his own form, clearly buoyed from his win in the 2015 race.
“Last year it was my first race win in the big ones [Marathon Majors]. It has taken me to another level,” he said. “Since I won in New York last year I have improved so much.”
The 30-year-old competes in New York for the third time, having also finished fifth on his debut in 2013. Earlier this year he clocked 2:03:51 – making him the seventh-fastest marathon runner of all time – to finish second at the London Marathon. However, his most recent outing was less successful, as he dropped out of the Rio Olympic race late on.
Should he falter this weekend, Lucas Rotich could be the best Kenyan hope. The 26-year-old will make his New York Marathon debut having won UAE Healthy Heart 10k in the same city in May.
Yet a more likely threat should come from Ghimray Ghebreslassie. The 20-year-old finished fourth in Rio and makes his debut in New York, which will be his third marathon of 2016. The Eritrean was just 19 when he won gold at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. He was fourth in London this year in a personal best of 2:07.46.
Another who should figure is Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa. The two-time Boston Marathon winner finished third in New York last year and was second in 2014. The 26-year-old also has a World Championships silver medal from 2013. He will hope it’s a case of third time lucky in the five boroughs.
New York debutant Moses Kipsiro, 30, competes in his second career marathon, having clocked 2:15:48 in Hamburg in April. The Ugandan won World Championships bronze over 5000m in 2007, and bronze again at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships.
The strongest US hope is Dathan Ritzenhein. A 2:07:47 runner at his best, the 33-year-old has competed in New York twice before, finishing 11th in 2006 and eighth in 2010. He arrives on the back of a good showing at the Great North Run half marathon in September, where he finished second behind Mo Farah.
Keitany tipped for third crown
In the women’s race, Mary Keitany will bid for a third straight win – a feat not achieved since Grete Waitz won five titles in the 1980s.
Keitany, a two-time London winner and the second-fastest woman in history (2:18.37 in London in 2012), said she was fully focused on winning in New York after being overlooked for selection at the Rio Olympics.
“I’ve been training well. I’m ready to come to New York and defend my title,” Keitany said. Her record and personal best make her the favourite – even more so since the withdrawal of the injured Gladys Cherono – yet as her ninth-place finish in London earlier this year attests, nothing is assured over 26.2 miles.
Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia was second behind Keitany in last year’s race. The 31-year-old is a three-time Dubai Marathon winner, yet her sole Marathon Major win came in London in 2010 following the retrospective disqualification of the first two finishers. A bronze medallist from the 2009 World Championships, her PB of 2:19:31 suggests she should figure at the front on Sunday.
Kenya’s Sally Kipyego is familiar to the US audience. After a glittering career as a collegiate athlete out of Texas Tech, she won silver medals over 10,000m at the 2011 World Championships and London 2012 Olympics. Though she failed to finish on her marathon debut in New York in 2015, her record from the track suggests she could be part of the equation if she has a good day.
Kenyan Joyce Chepkirui could also be a threat. She was third in Boston earlier this year, her best Marathon Major finish, and has a PB of 2:24:11 from winning in Amsterdam this time last year. The 28-year-old makes her New York Marathon debut after finishing second at the NYC Half in March.
The woman who beat her in that race was USA’s Molly Huddle. She makes her debut over the classic distance after setting a North American 10,000m record to finish sixth in Rio. The 32-year-old admitted to having “some doubts” as to how she will perform, though there will be no doubting the vociferous support she is guaranteed every stride of the way come Sunday.
The women’s race begins 09:20, while the men will commence at 09:50 (Eastern Time).
Thomas Byrne for the IAAF