NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 2 – Defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya will be hoping for a sweet sense of deja vu on his return to the Big Apple on Sunday for the New York City Marathon.
Kamworor, a two-time World Cross Country champion is unbeaten this season and headlines the competitive men’s race.
The 25-year-old Kenyan returns to New York as defending champion, having unleashed a strong finish through the rolling hills of Central Park last year to clock 2:10:53 and come home three seconds clear of runner-up Wilson Kipsang.
It was Kamworor’s first victory at one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, though he has been almost invincible at shorter distances in recent years, racking up three straight titles at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and the past two men’s titles at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
A training partner of Eliud Kipchoge, who set the marathon world record of 2:01:39 in Berlin in September, Kamworor is confident of his form ahead of Sunday’s race.
“My preparation is going as well as last year – it’s almost the same and so far, so good,” he said. “I believe in what I have done and I am ready to race. If I win, I will be the happiest man in the world because I will have won everything this year.”
Standing in his way is a formidable line-up of East Africans, chief among them Shura Kitata, who produced an outstanding showing to finish second at the London Marathon in April, just 32 seconds behind Kipchoge in a PB of 2:04:49. Kitata blitzed the field at the Philadelphia Half Marathon in September, clocking a PB of 59:16 and coming home almost four minutes clear of an international field.
Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru should also make his presence felt, the 2017 London Marathon champion racing here for the first time. But so far this year the 26-year-old has been out of sorts, finishing eighth at the London Marathon in April and seventh at the Great North Run in September in 1:03:40.
Desisa and Tola lead Ethiopian charge
Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa was runner-up in New York in 2016 and the two-time Boston Marathon champion will be hoping to go one better this time.
He failed to finish in Boston earlier this year but the 28-year-old impressed at the Copenhagen Half Marathon in September, clocking a PB of 59:52 to finish seventh.
The fastest athlete in the race is Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola, who ran a PB of 2:04:06 to finish third at the Dubai Marathon in January. He was a marathon silver medallist at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 and Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist in Rio in 2016, championship credentials which could prove vital in Sunday’s race, which will not employ pacemakers.
The US challenge will be spear-headed by Bernard Lagat, who will make his marathon debut and is targeting Meb Keflezighi’s US masters’ record of 2:12:20. “Training is going wonderfully,” said the 43-year-old. “I know the course is hard but it’s not all about place – for me it is about time.”
Lagat’s training partners Abdi Abdirahman of USA and Juan Luis Barrios of Mexico are also in the field, though it will come as a major surprise if either gets on the podium, while USA’s Shadrack Biwott, a third-place finisher in Boston this year, will be hoping for more of the same in New York.
-Vivian Cheruiyot makes debut-
In the women’s race, defending champion Shalane Flanagan face a stun test in defending the title at her home ground.
Flanagan sealed a memorable win in last year’s race in 2:26:53, powering away from three-time champion Mary Keitany of Kenya in the final miles through Central Park, though the 37-year-old has had a low-key year so far, coming home sixth in dire conditions at the Boston Marathon in April, the last race she completed.
But she’s confident of a stout title defence when she takes to the start line in Staten Island on Sunday.
“My fitness is good, I couldn’t ask for better,” said Flanagan, who admits she has made no career plan beyond this weekend. “Over the past two years I’ve acted as if each marathon is my last, not knowing where it’s going to take me. Until I cross the finish line, I honestly don’t know.”
-Strong Kenyan challenge –
To succeed, she will have to overcome an athlete she has faced on 11 occasions in the past and never beaten: Vivian Cheruiyot.
The Kenyan enters as favourite after a commanding win at the London Marathon earlier this year where she clocked 2:18:31 in warm conditions, and the 35-year-old proved preparations were going well when taking victory at the Great North Run in Newcastle in September, clocking 1:07:43 for the half marathon.
However, this will be Cheruiyot’s first time tackling the New York City Marathon and in that realm, one of her compatriots will have a major advantage. Mary Keitany may have been beaten into fifth at the London Marathon in April, but the 36-year-old is a three-time winner of the race between 2014 and 2016 and the Kenyan had an impressive win over 10K in New York in June, clocking 30:59 in what was her last competitive outing.