NAIROBI, October 30- One thing is certain. There will be no cheating Joseph Njogus on Sunday when the cast of star Kenyan marathoners take to the streets of New York in their bid to conquer a course 2005 champion and celebrated legend, Paul Tergat, described as ‘the classic race’.
Wilson Kipsang, the former marathon holder and Mary Keitany, who has returned with force since taking a maternal break will put their men and women titles on the line.
Njogu stole international headlines last Sunday at Kenya’s signatures Nairobi International Stanchart Marathon after brazenly attempting to cheat his way to second place and its Sh650,000 reward before he was quickly exposed, arrested and eventually released without charge.
To his credit, the wannabe had his 15 minutes of shameful fame on all local and major international outlets including AFP, Reuters, BBC and Sky News among others.
However, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has promised no Njogus or any other characters intent on making trouble on race day will have a sniff of a chance in the American city that is prepared for week of chaos; the World Series (Baseball), Halloween and New York City Marathon.
Runners participating in Sunday’s marathon will be sprinting past a sea of blue, the NYPD’s top cop said Thursday. More than 1,800 cops will be along the 26-mile route, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said at a marathon-related press conference in Central Park, according to a report on New York Daily news.
There’s a lesson hidden in there for Stanchart Nairobi Marathon organisers. At the end of the day, headlines will be dominated by two athletes who will cut the tape first over the classic 42.195km distance, not the sideshows that marred what was a good celebration of running by the big elephant in the room- Njogu.
In the men’s race, the pressure is on Kipsang, 33, who by his lofty standards, is yet to prove his mettle this year having ran seven sub 2:05:00 career marathons, owned the world record, won London twice and above all, coming in as the defending champion.
In April, he was beaten to second by Eliud Kipchoge who deployed a sustained charge over the last two kilometres to end his reign as London champion by five with his commendable 2:04:47 remaining his year best and marking the seventh time he has dipped under 2:05.
Worse was to befall the man who ran to a 2:03:23 world record at the 2013 Berlin Marathon when he donned the Kenyan colours for the August IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China, where pressure cooker conditions slapped him a DNF and the chance to move closer to Kipchoge in the World Marathon Majors rankings.
Last fall, Kipsang won a share of USD500,000 WMM jackpot with his Big Apple triumph after topping the 2013/14 biennial cycle competition standings and had he taken Beijing gold, it would have pushed his tally to 41 points, the maximum he can achieve with victory on Sunday.
Kipchoge (50), who is also in New York, will be watching the men’s race with more than keen interest since he stands to succeed Kipsang as the jackpot winner provided Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay (32) does not win the race since a victory for him would take his total to 57.
“I think when I compare my condition from last year to this year, I think this year I am a bit [more] well prepared and I think I can run faster than last year,” Kipsang, the Olympics bronze winner was quoted in runningcompetitor.com.
And he is in no mood to engage any challenger in a slug fest like last year when he duelled with Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa in the final stages, exchanging the lead as they came to the final borough of the five that make New York before prevailing over the challenger in 2:10:59 with a sprint.
On the domestic front, Kipsang’s reign will be put under severe test by World Cross Champion and namesake, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, who proved his versatility in long distance running by pushing feared British track star, Mo Farah, all the way before settling for 10,000m silver at the Beijing Worlds.
Having finished the time trial Berlin Marathon third in successive years, including when Kipsang stormed to his world record, the 22 year-old who also holds the World Half Marathon crown finished fourth in Berlin (2:06:39) in his last outing over the ultimate distance.
Last year’s Boston runner-up, Stanley Biwott, who holds a 2:04:55 personal best and fourth place finish at this year’s London Marathon, is the other strong Kenyan challenger in New York, having kept up with Kipchoge, Kipsang, world record holder, Dennis Kimetto who rounded the podium until the dying embers of the race.
The Ethiopian three-pronged challenge features Yemane who was second in Boston and bagged silver at the Beijing Worlds but the fact he will be running his fourth marathon of the year could prove to be his undoing.
Lelisa comes with the Boston title under his belt before he finished seventh in Beijing with the added motivation of climbing a step higher in the podium to atone for his narrow loss last year.
Gebregzhiabher Gebremariam, a winner here in 2010 and third last year completes the Ethiopian trio and having fought off three seasons of injury, is slowly working his way back to the top.
Revered Kenya athletics head coach, Julius Kirwa, once said, a new mother “returns to running with new power, almost a second strength to her natural gift.”
In the case of Mary Jepkosgei Keitany, the assertion holds true, having returned from a second maternal break with a seismic bang to end her year with the New York title after outlasting the hard fighting compatriot, Jemimah Sumgong, in the closing stages to complete the course in 2:25:07.
Her bid to reclaim her London title in April was only bettered by the superior display on the day from Ethiopia’s surprise package, Tigist Tufa, with the clocks returning 2:23:22 against 2:23:40 and having been overlooked for the Beijing Worlds, New York should expected a wounded Keitany on her streets on Sunday.
Despite the fire raging in her belly, the soft spoken, affable but ruthless distance runner preached caution ahead of another stern test she hopes to pass with flying colours for a second New York title.
“I will run very carefully. In 2011 here I started too fast. I could not finish well. My training has been good. Before the London Marathon in April, I had been ill with malaria. This time I think I will run well.
“When I won last year, the fans were shouting ‘Go, Mary! Go, Mary!’ I like the people. New York is a wonderful city. As a mother, I am not running for myself, but for my family,” runningcompetitor.com quoted the mother of two who is always quick to offer a dazzling smile at the pre-race press conference.
Keitany, also 33, who was fourth at the London Olympics will hinge her reputation against a mean cast including the much-awaited full marathon debut of Sally Kipyego, the Olympics 10,000m silver medallist who will feel more at home since she is based in Oregon.
Helah Kiprop- who stunned everyone by winning silver at the Beijing Worlds, losing the top medal by a second- and 2015 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Rotich and 2013 winner, Pricash Jeptoo, round off the Kenya’s ‘Big Five’ lined-up for the Big Apple showdown and the last WMM event of the year.
Keitany will renew acquaintances with Tigist in the mouth-watering instalment of their duel this year with her fellow Ethiopians, Asefelech Mergia and Buzunesh Deba, possessing the quality to take the crown on their day.
A lot also expected from debuting home runner, Laura Thweatt, ranked the top female American runner and seasoned Latvian Jelena Prokopcuka.