The world’s best ever marathoners line up for the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday, so we thought we’d ask the best ever marathon expert – Sean Hartnett – to preview the elite men. Here is part one of Professor Marathon’s guide to the race of the century.
Best. Marathon. Ever.
“Every year we say the London Marathon has put together the greatest field in history, but this year it really hits the stature. We have the Olympic champion [Stephen Kiprotich] in the field, the world record holder [Wilson Kipsang], the course record holder [Emmanuel Mutai] and the fastest marathoner in history [Geoffrey Mutai].
“Then we've got the great intangibles, like Mo Farah. It is always good to put together a field with some question marks against it, because it keeps everyone honest.”
The great intangible
Mo Farah, London’s very own world and Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion on the track. Marathon virgin. Half marathon best: 1:00:59 (New Orleans, 2013).
“People sometimes read too much into half marathon times when making predictions for the marathon, which is probably a good thing because Mo's performance in New York [where he finished second to Geoffrey Mutai] was a real mixed bag.
“He collapsed at the end of the race – which is never good – but he collapsed at the end of cross country races before [in both Dublin and Edinburgh], and some runner's respond differently to different conditions.
“I liked how in New York he rallied late in the race, but you do wonder if the collapse may have created a little bit of doubt in the back of his mind. My instinct says that there might be a period of adjustment for Mo and the marathon.
“The question will be: how he handles the first 30-35km. Then, can he switch into racing mode? If he does manage to switch, then few are better than Mo. It took Haile and Paul Tergat [both phenomenal track runners like Mo] two to three marathons before they could bring that racing mode out of their body towards the end of a race.”
The ultimate competitor
Wilson Kipsang, Kenya’s marathon world record holder and 2012 London Marathon champion. Personal best: 2:03:23 (Berlin, 2013). London best: 2:04:44 (winner, 2012).
“If you discount the fifth place finish he had in London last year – when his preparations were badly hampered by heavy rain in Kenya in the countdown to the race – the low watermark of his marathon career was his bronze medal at the London Olympics. He considers it an opportunity lost because he got a little excited and made a move too early into the race.
“He really is the most competitive marathoner in the world at the moment. He's very mature and takes his running very seriously. He organises a big group of athletes in Eldoret, and wins praise not only from people within his team, but also from those outside. He's a leader among athletes and that's what feeds his disposition.
“He won the London Marathon in 2012 by blowing the race wide open at 20km, but he also has the ability to really pick up the pace at 35km. It will be interesting to see how he wears the tag of world record holder because it can be a heavy burden.”
The championship performer
Stephen Kiprotich, Uganda’s world and Olympic marathon champion. Personal best: 2:07:20 (Enschede, 2011). London best: 2:08:05 (sixth place, 2013).
“We know from watching the London 2012 Olympics and the Moscow 2013 World Championships: he has an incredible set of competitive skills. But can he really run a fast race?
“We have witnessed the patience and ability he has. In Moscow I called him ‘boxing fit’ because he had his shorts tucked in like a boxer. If he turns up in those boxer shorts, he'll be ready to go.
“The Olympic marathon was a very dynamic race, full of ebbs and flows. By contrast, in Moscow, Kiprotich was in complete control of the race and showed great composure every step of the way. Can he reproduce that mentality in a fast race? I'm sure he can.”
Tsegaye Kebede, Ethiopia’s reigning London Marathon champion. Personal best: 2:04:38 (Chicago, 2012). London best: 2:05:19 (winner, 2010).
“I call him the world's most competitive racer. In 16 career marathons he has finished on the podium on 13 occasions with six wins, three seconds and four thirds.
“He proved in Chicago two years ago that he is quick, when he ran 2:04:38. And he is a two-time winner of the London Marathon.
“The only downside I can see is the length of his career. There are only so many times you can go to the well. Will all of those hard races have caught up with him? Having said that, last year he won London, finished second in New York and finished fourth in Moscow.”
Unbelievably, there is MORE to come. Tune in tomorrow, for part two of Professor Marathon’s guide to London 2014.