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LRC: 2008 ING New York City Marathon Men's Preview
by LetsRun.com
October  31, 2008

Handicapping the 2008 edition of the ING New York City marathon is a difficult affair as there is no heavy favorite. The defending champion, Martin Lel, is not back after having finished fifth in the Olympic marathon. However, two former champions, 2005 champion Paul Tergat and 2006 champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos, are both entered and both have legitimate shots at winning their 2nd New York title.

Paul Tergat, who is universally regarded as one of the all-time greats in distance running, is back after an 18-month hiatus from marathon racing. After getting sixth in London in 2007, the former world record holder in both the 10,000 meters and marathon took a much deserved break from the rigors of competitive racing. He took administrative and business classes at a military academy in Kenya and allowed himself to even get a little chubby, gaining 11 pounds at one point.

While other pundits may be concerned that Tergat has been away from the top level for so long, we feel just the opposite and think the break gives him a better chance to be the victor in 2008. At the age of 39, he is definitely in the twilight of his career. At that age, the body takes longer to recover. Trying to bang out two marathons a year simply isn't possible. But if one lets them-self recover physically and mentally, they can probably come up with one or two more remarkable efforts.

Remember, Constantina Tomescu Dita won the women's Olympic marathon title in August at the age of 38. Tergat has a lot more accomplishments to his resume than she does, so it's reasonable to think he can do something great at the age of 39. And tennis fans likely remember that New York has a past history of sporting greats putting on one last great show at age 39.

Jimmy Connors 1991 U.S. Open Highlights

From his comments at the press conference earlier this week, it's clear that mentally Tergat seems focused and re-energized. "I want to assure that I'm back. I feel very fresh. I feel very focused," said Tergat.

Physically, his one prep race coming into New York, a second-place 1:01:33 half marathon, shows that he's fit and almost certainly will have a third straight fine performance at the ING New York City marathon. In Tergat's two previous runs in New York, he has produced a good effort both times, as in addition to winning in 2005, he was 3rd in 2006.

The man who won the 2006 race, Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil, is back in 2008. Gomes comes into New York in pretty good form as he finished 8th on October 12th in the World Half Marathon Championships in his native Brazil. However, it will be much harder for Gomes to win in 2008 than in 2006, as heading into the 2006 race Gomes was an unknown. Many of the top runners, including Tergat, admitted they made a tactical mistake in letting Gomes get away as they were focused on other runners. Tergat said this week in the press conference there is no way they'd make that same mistake this year.

In terms of which former champion do we think has better odds of winning in 2008, we'd definitely say Tergat for one simple reason. It's clear that New York has been his #1 goal all fall, whereas Gomes dropped out of the Olympic marathon before running the World Half. It's hard to win New York if it's not your sole focus.

The 2004 New York champion, Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, is also in the field, but we are largely discounting his chances of getting the win. Ramaala was only 10th in London this spring and 44th in Beijing. Like Tergat, he's getting up there in age, and we think he's going to have a very hard time coming up with the exceptional performance it takes to win in New York in his third marathon of the year at the age of 36 after two previous sub-par efforts earlier this year.

The man we think who has the best chance of winning on Sunday is a guy who is looking for the first marathon win of his career, Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco.

The 32-year-old just started running marathons last year, but he's proven himself to be a quick study. He's run three world marathon majors in his career and he's produced fine performances each time, so there is no reason to expect him not to produce a fourth. Second in London and New York last year, he ran the finest race of his career at the 2008 Flora London Marathon this spring but was only third. However, the 2:05:30 performance that he put up in London was spectacular and that effort would have certainly won virtually every other marathon in history. It's hard to imagine that one could run what was then the 6th-fastest marathon in history and only finish third. In that race, Goumri was six seconds in arrears of Sammy Wanjiru, who went on to make Olympic history in Beijing. Goumri himself did run in Beijing; he was 20th in 2:15:00. That sub-par performance doesn't dampen our enthusiasm for him too much as he dropped out of last year's World Championships marathon before getting 2nd in New York.

Goumri in our minds is the favorite but he will challenged by many others including a number of additional Kenyans, led by Abel Kirui and Daniel Rono. Neither Kenyan appears on the New York Road Runners website of elite entrants, but in our minds, it would be very, very foolish to discount either one of them.

We rate Kirui as our #4 pick. He ran 2:06:51 last year to get 2nd in Berlin to Haile Gebrselassie before running 2:07:38 to win in Austria in April. He's clearly in great shape, as last month he helped Gebrselassie make history by rabbiting him 32 km (19.8 miles) en route to the Great One's new world record of 2:03:59. Kirui did such a great job that Haile thanked him by name in his post-race comments. "The pacemakers did a great job. It was fantastic that Abel was able to stay with me as long as he did," said  Gebrselassie after setting the record. If Haile Gebrselassie knows your name, you must be pretty good.

Coming into the year, Rono was only a 2:09:36 guy who was known for doing well in some lesser marathons like the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, where he was the winner in 2006 and runner-up in 2007. However, Rono's 2008 has been sensational. He's run two races and they both were huge PRs. He ran a 2:06:58 to get second in Rotterdam in April before going back to Rotterdam on September 14th to run a half marathon in preparation for his New York debut. Rotterdam was good to Rono once again as he ran a 59-second personal best of 1:00:27.

Clearly, Rono's in good form and we'd rather go with an unknown hot runner than a proven runner who is missing impressive recent results. We do have one big concern, however. Can Rono handle the difficult New York course? Guys that are solely time trial specialists or flat course stars often don't do well in New York.

There are three other Kenyans in the field who have all run 2:07 this year that can't be discounted. 33-year-old Wilfred Kigen has run 2:07 to get second in Hamburg both this year and last. Hosea Rotich, 29, was 3rd in Paris this year in 2:07:24. He also got some experience running in New York in July when he was 7th in the New York City Half Marathon in 1:03:33. 27-year-old Isaac Macharia ran 2:07:16 for 2nd in Dubai in January, but we're concerned by the fact that he's had no prep races heading into New York.

2008 Boston runner-up Abderrahim Bouramdane is a 2nd Moroccan that has a legitimate chance of winning on Sunday. We're sure he'd make most people's top five lists for New York given his Boston performance. But he's never run faster than 2:08:20 and we just feel that there are at least five other guys better than him in the field on paper. His 26th place showing at the Olympics in August doesn't scare us off too much as, like his compatriot Goumri, he has a history of doing poorly at the championship marathon in August and then running well in November. 45th at the World Championships last August, he was second in Seoul in his PR of 2:08:20 last November.

The battle for the top American performer should come down to Abdi Abdirahman and Josh Rohatinsky. Abdi without a doubt has much bigger aspirations than just being the top American. A top five finish for him is certainly possible and it wouldn't shock us to see Abdi in the lead pack at the 20 mile mark.

New York is Abdi's first world marathon major since he ran his PR of 2:08:56 to finish 4th in Chicago in 2006. His one prep race coming into New York was a pretty good one as he ran 1:01:33 to get third at the BUPA Great North Run on October 5th. 1:01:33 is the exact same time that our #2 pick Paul Tergat ran in his half marathon prep race as well. The difference, however, is that Abdi was beaten by 1:48 in his, whereas Tergat was only beaten by seven seconds. Abdi is a talent however, and he proved at last year's New York City Half Marathon that when he's on, he can run with the world's best in New York. In that race, he ran 1:00:29 to finish second to Haile Gebrselassie.

Rohatinsky, who is coached by 3-time New York champion Alberto Salazar, should be the top American if Abdi has an off day. Rohatinsky thinks he's can run in the 2:11 range (5-minute pace) if he runs well.

But up front we expect it to be a battle between the Moroccans, Kenyans and a Brazilian.

LetsRun.com Predictions: #1 Abderrahim Goumri#2 Paul Tergat#3 Marilson Gomes dos Santos#4 Abel Kirui#5Daniel Rono.

PS. One thing we didn't mention is that 1983 champion Rod Dixon is running this year. But he's not racing. He's running with his daughter.

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