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LetsRun.com's 2009 IAAF Berlin World Championships Preview
We've got perhaps our best preview for you for the men's marathon. Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya and Japan send the strongest teams to Berlin in 2009, with many of the world's top marathoning stars signed up for this year's race.
Ethiopia has perhaps the strongest team with road-racing superstar Deriba Merga (right) leading the charge. Just look at what Merga has done in 6 months in 2009: Winner, Houston Marathon, course record. Winner, Boston Marathon. Winner, Ottawa 10k in 27:24. World record setter in 15k en route to the RAK Half Marathon, 41:29. That's insane. If he is in shape (when is he NOT in shape?), he is the man to beat in this race.
Or is he? He might not even be the best guy on his national team. Tsegay Kebede is the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon (1 spot ahead of Merga) and is the 9th-fastest marathon runner of all time thanks to his 2:05:20 2nd-place finish behind Sam Wanjiru (not running) in London this year.
Oh, and Ethiopia's 3rd-best guy is a 2:06:30 marathoner named Yemane Tsegay. Yeah, we'd never really heard of him either.
But the Ethiopians will face a stiff test from Jaouad Gharib, Abderrahim Goumri and the Moroccans. As we show in our crack research table below, Moroccans don't win tons of top 10 world marathon finishes, but when they do, they're usually in the top 3. Gharib is a 2-time world marathon champion and won silver in Beijing last year between Wanjiru and Kebede.
Japan has won 20% of the top 10 finishes in WC and Olympic marathons in the past 8 years, an enormous accomplishment. They missed the top 10 in Beijing in a disastrous showing. Look for 2009 to be different as we think Atsushi Sato (left, behind Olympic silver medalist Meb K.) and Arata Fujiwara are likely to crack the top 10. If not, one of their teammates might, as the Japanese take this race very seriously.
Kenyans Abel Kirui, Daniel Rono, Emmanuel Mutai, Ben Kiptoo and Robert Cheruiyot may be the best team ever assembled for a World Championships marathon. Historically, however, the Kenyans haven't done that much damage at WC and Olympic marathons. This year could be different if the Kenyans are really motivated. Kirui was third behind Duncan Kibet and James Kwambai in Rotterdam in 2:05:04. He's the 6th-fastest marathoner to ever walk the earth. Not bad.
Rono was second to Merga in Boston. He was easily clear of the best-ever American-born marathoner, Ryan Hall. Kiptoo is the Rome Marathon champion in 2009 in 2:07:17. Mutai was an astounding 4th in London this year in 2:06:53. That's one heck of a team. If they can't get it done in Berlin with at least 3 top 10s, it shows they really just don't train properly when they're away from their regular coaches, managers and agents and placed in the hand of Athletics Kenya ("Uncle Kirwa") to prepare for the race.
Did we forget somebody from the Kenyan team? How about Robert Cheruiyot, 4-time Boston Marathon Champion (pictured below). Cheruiyot - were it not for his 2009 Boston meltdown - might be the scariest of all the competitors in the race. He didn't fare well in Boston this year and hasn't raced much. Perhaps he has planned his year all around Berlin in hopes of taking down a title that will, surely, be very difficult to win. And if Kenya needs an alternate, theirs is former world marathon champion Luke Kibet. That's like having an aging Shaquille O'Neal as your 6th man.
Looking at chances of top 20 finishes from other countries, we see likely high placers from Eritrea (Yared Asmeron or Yonas Kifle), Tanzania, Qatar or Bahrain, depending on who they actually send to the line.
American, Canadian, South American and European marathoning fans will be fortunate to see 1 or 2 of their marathoners in the top 20. The American team is unlikely to build on the momentum Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein produced last year, despite being an inspring and hard-working group of guys. Great Britain won't even have a male entrant, and neither will Finland. Spain might grab a top 20 spot, and so might the Brazilians. They entered Marilson dos Santos, the heroic champion of 2 ING NYC Marathons (but we are doubting he'll run).
Top 10 Study
Most of us know which athletes do well at the major marathons with big money and appearance fees on the line. But World Championships and Olympics are different marathons. So we looked back at the past 4 World Championships marathons and last 2 Olympic marathons. We looked at the top 10 finishers to see if we could find any patterns. In particular, we were interested in Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco/Qatar/Bahrain, Europe (we just lumped all of Europe together), Japan, Brazil, other African countries (namely Uganda, Eritrea and South Africa) and the US. What we found was pretty interesting.
The table below shows the nation(s) in the rows, the years in the columns, and each square has the number of top 10 finishers for the pairing. We totaled up the top 10 finishers and also totaled up the medals, with the percentage of medals/top 10 finishes calculated. Red numbers are the leaders in that category (for example Japan is the country with the most top 10 finishes, 12, so we highlighted that number in red).
Some trends we found:
1. The Japanese are amazingly consistent and productive at WC and Olympic marathon runs. They placed at least 2 men in the top 10 in every competition except Beijing, where they had no man in the top 10. We're sure their team this year would like to resume their previous pattern.
2. Japan's total top 10 tally is 12. This is 20% of all the top 10 positions awarded in the past 8 years. Amazing.
3. Surprisingly, Europe had the most total top 10s with 14 and also the most total medals with 5. Kenya and Ethiopia combined for 5 medals as well. Would you have guessed that Europeans have the same number of WC and OG marathon medals over the past 8 years as Kenya and Ethiopia combined? We would not have.
4. Japan (12), the US (4) and Europe (14) have combined for 30 of the 60 top 10 spots awarded since 2001. So much for African domination! Well, one of those medals went to Meb K., born in Eritrea.
5. Morocco, Qatar and Bahrain contributed 5 top 10 finishes, but out of those they had 4 medals, by far the highest percentage of any nation grouping. This trend might continue in 2009 with Goumri and Gharib.
6. Ethiopia had basically the opposite results as Japan. Rather than scoring top 10's every year, the mighty producer of distance runners had top 10s only in 2001 and 2008, but each of those years they led all nation groups with 4 and 3, respectively, including 2 medal winners.
7. Hard to believe, with all of the Kenyan marathon greatness and depth year after year, that the Kenyans have only managed to win 3 out of 18 total men's marathon medals awarded in the past 8 years.
See the top 10 finishers in '08, '07, '05, '04, '03 and '01 below:
2008 Olympic Marathon Results
Osaka Top 10 Results 2007
Helsinki 2005 Results
2004 Athens Olympic Top 10 Marathon Results
1. Stefano Baldini (Ita) 2h10:55s
Paris 2003 Top 10 Results
2001 Edmonton Worlds Top 10 Marathon Results
Men's Marathon Statistics By LRC Coaching Guru John Kellogg
2:04:27 Duncan Kibet (KEN)+ (= #2 all-time)