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2007 World Championship Marathon Preview: A New Champion Will be Crowned
By LetsRun.com
Aug 23, 2007

Who wins Men's Marathon?

It's fitting that in marathon mad Japan the World Championships in Osaka start with the men's marathon (although ending it with it would have made equal sense). Outside of the Kenyans, the Japanese men are arguably the best marathoners in the world. There is no place in the world where the marathon is more popular than Japan. (To go back in the LetsRun.com archives, and read a 2000 article about Wejo training with the incredible Japanese corporate marathon teams, click here)

So the eyes of millions of Japanese will be tuned in to the men's marathon Saturday morning (Friday night 6pm eastern in the US (The only way to watch the events live in the US is via WCSN for $4.95 for the entire World Champs). No doubt they'll be rooting for an individual Japanese medal. While an individual medal is not out of the question, Japan's best bet is to three peat in the World Marathon Cup competition. (The World Champs also serves as the World Marathon Cup where each country can enter 5 athletes and the times of the top 3 are added together to come up with a team score.)

The good news for the Japanese team chances is that there are only 5 Kenyans allowed in the race, and they are not the top Kenyan marathoners in the World (97 different runners last year ran sub 2:11 in the marathon. 56 of them were from Kenya. Japan was 2nd on the list at 7. Many of the top marathoners often skip the World Champs for a lucrative payday at a big city marathon where they can get a 6 figure appearance fee.)

Gharib Pulls Out With Injury
The big news this week (which caused us to rewrite this entire preview) is that
two time defending World Champ Jaouad Gharib of Morocco is out with a minor injury. A third world title would have been unprecedented and Gharib is still at the top of his game. He finished 4th in the sprint finish in London this year versus arguably the greatest men's marathon field ever assembled.

With Gharib out, the torch may pass to his countryman, Abderrahim Goumri. Goumri has run 12:50 for 5k (speaking of which, remember the days when it seemed like every top notch 5k was run well under 13 minutes? There has only been one sub 13 clocking this year. Hmmm). In his marathon debut, Goumri ran 2:07:44 for 2nd in London. Pretty impressive for a marathon debut.

The most credentialed marathoner in the field with Gharib out is South African Hendrick Ramaala, the 2004 NYC Champ. Ramaala runs his best the years of the Olympics and World Champs when he attempts three marathons a year. At the age of 35, Ramaala has definitely figured out the marathon (he ran 2:07:56 in the sprint finish in London this year), but wants one more big win to validate his career. He told LetsRun.com in a lengthy interview earlier this month, "I'm 35; I need to win a (major) championship and (another) big city marathon." (Click to your left to watch the full interview, if you want to just watch a 1 minute highlight clip where Ramaala talks about his fear of the marathon click here)

The great thing about the marathon is a lot of guys have a shot. Among the contenders is Julio Rey of Spain who got the silver 4 years ago and ran 2:06:52 last year. The best Kenyan in the field is now a Qatari, Mubarak Hassan Shami (Richard Yatich) who ran 2:07:19 to win in Paris this year and got the silver at the World Half Marathon Champs in 2005. Laban Kipkemboi of Kenya ran 2:08:38 this year in Seoul. Ethiopia's Dejene Berhanu has run 12:54 for 5k on the track and ran 2:08:46 last year. Japan's Watari Okutani, who had the fastest qualifying time of the Japanese in the qualifying window is out with an injury, but Japan has a slew of experienced sub 2:10 guys on the team, including Tsuyoshi Ogata who got the bronze at the 2005 Worlds.

85 Degree Weather
The biggest question mark may be how the runners respond to the repressive weather in Osaka. A marathon is somewhat unpredictable, a marathon in 85 degree heat is even more unpredictable. The forecast for Saturday does include a 30% chance or rain but that may not help the runners too much as the low for Saturday is 80 degrees. So even with a 7am local start, expect it to be in the mid 80s by the finish.

Gharib1) Goumri 2) Ogata 3) Kipkemboi
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