Where Your Dreams Become Reality
LRC FLORA London Marathon Men's Preview
Insane Men's Field Ready To Toe The Line
(Note: If you want more info on the runners, we highly recommend the media guide PDF available to all on the London website).
Trying to handicap the men's race at the 2009 Flora London Marathon is next to impossible. Why? Because the field is once again bonkers good - by far the greatest field to compete at a world marathon major over the last calendar year. London once again is truly the best.
Our only issue is trying to figure out a way to tell you how good the London field is. While we were racking our brains for some adjectives, we came across the opening paragraph in the press packet and thought it did it better than we possibly could:
How can 2009 possibly match last year's record-breaking race? Well, take this for a lineup: the reigning Olympic champion, the reigning world champion, the first four from last year's London epic, four of the first five from the Olympic Games, a former double world champion, the world bronze medallist, and the fourth, fifth, sixth, 12th, 13th and 14th quickest men of all time.
And that description doesn't even include the most interesting debutante in a long, long time in former World Cross-Country champion Zersenay Tadese or the top Americans in the race in 2004 Olympic silver medallist Meb Keflezighi or 9th placer in 2008 Dathan Ritzenhein. In terms of personal bests, London has three guys at 2:05:30 or better, 7 sub-2:07s and an 8th at 2:07:02, 13 sub-2:10s and Ritzenhein. Britain is the land of the most famous monarchy in the world and thus it's only fitting that London is without a doubt the King of the marathon.
Former world record holder at 1,500, Steve Cram, has said of this year's London that "this could be the best year yet."
Well, we've decided to look at all of the sub-2:10 guys in the field plus Dathan Ritzenhein.
After each runner, we'll list their betting odds as shown by coral.co.uk on Thursday and give you our take. At the end, we give you our final analysis.
Those That Can Win (In order of PRs)
1) Martin Lel, 30, 2:05:15. Odds: 6/5
What's there not to like about Lel? Well ... Lel has won Lisbon 3 times - in 2003, 2006 and 2009. The previous two times he was the winner in Lisbon, he didn't win his spring marathon, as he was 3rd in Boston in 2003 and 2nd in 2006. Past history predicts that Lel is unbeatable in the spring except when he wins in Lisbon. It's certainly possible to be too sharp too soon.
It's weird, as after we wrote the previous sentence, within 15 minutes we found out some info that almost proves our point. We just found out a that Lel has had an injury scare. The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Lel revealed at the press conference on Wednesday according that "he had felt a twinge in his hip while training on Sunday and that he was to have a precautionary MRI scan." Lel told the Telegraph, "I had a bit of a problem but I don't know if it will affect me. I am still confident of running on Sunday but I will wait for the results."
Bettor's Take: To win this race, you need to be 100%. If we were betting men, we'd have to stay away from Lel. Hell, even if he was healthy, those odds are really tight and not worth risking it on. It's sort of like in golf, do you bet on Tiger Woods or the field? Probably safer to go with the field.
2) Sammy Wanjiru, 22, 2:05:24. Odds 10/3
The Olympic performance was in our minds without a doubt the single greatest marathon ever run. Haile G fans go find somewhere else to plead that one of his time trials was better. Not a chance. There is no more pressure that a runner can feel than at the Olympics. The conditions were pretty awful for the marathon and somehow this guy ran 2:06:32. Insane.
So why is Wanjiru only the 2nd betting choice in London? Well, we imagine it's because he was beaten by Lel last year in London and he's run two half marathons this year and neither was that fast by Wanjiru's standards. Considering he is the world record holder at 58:33, his 61:13 half on February 1 certainly didn't impress casual fans; nor would his 7th-place showing on March 22nd in Lisbon (61:25). We'd counter that by saying his 61:13 was plenty fast for February 1 and he did win that race by more than a minute. As for his showing in Lisbon - yes, it was subpar, but that was 5 weeks before London.
Need we remind you that Deriba Merga dropped out of the World's Best 10km on March 1st. After that, lots of people were very concerned about his Boston chances as they thought he was over-raced. Well, last time we checked, he was wearing a laurel wreath as he got the win on Monday.
The key thing with Merga was that he showed up in Boston and it was clear that he was confident, as his coach said he thought he could win. The same is true here. Wanjiru was very confident in the press conference on Wednesday. A runner who is concerned about his training certainly doesn't say the following: "(The world record) is my goal and if the pacing is very good, I think I can do it."
Bettor's Take: Given his Olympic performance and his performances in the half marathon in the past, we have little doubt that he's the most talented marathoner on the planet. If he's truly trained well, we'd expect him to win in London. Wanjiru seems confident (although he always seems to talk big), so we really like his odds.
3) Abderrahim Goumri, 32, 2:05:30, Odds 12/1
If you need proof that a kick at the end of a marathon doesn't necessarily come down to who has the most raw speed or the best track credentials, you need look no farther than Goumri. The former 12:50 5ker lost in a kick to Lel in London in 2007 by 3 seconds before finishing 2nd to Lel again that fall in New York by 12 seconds. Last spring in London, he stayed with Lel and Wanjiru until the final half mile but was rewarded with a huge PR of 2:05:30. In New York last fall, it looked like he was going to get his first win before being overtaken late by Marilson dos Santos. So he's run 4 marathon majors and never finished worse than 3rd. Very impressive.
Could he win? Yes, but we think it will take an off day by Wanjiru or Lel for that to happen.
4) Tsegaye Kebede, 22, 2:06:10, Odds: 8/1
We actually will pause and try to use Kebede as the perfect example of just how good Wanjiru's Olympic win was. Kebede was 3rd in 2:10.00. Wanjiru beat a 2:06:10 guy by 3:28. Mind-boggling.
If it wasn't for Wanjiru (who is the same age as Kebede), we might label this guy as the future of the marathon, as he's only 22.
Bettor's Take: 8 to 1 odds are pretty good, although you are getting 50% better odds with Goumri. Definitely worth a look.
5) Emmanuel Mutai , 24, 2:06:15, Odds: 16/1
Bettor's Take: 16/1 odds are insanely good for this guy but is he a winner? You can take 1/5th of those odds and bet for a top 3 finish. That's a great bet.
6) Jaouad Gharib, 36, 2:07:02, Odds: 9/1. Gharib ran spectacularly in the Olympics last year as he got the silver in 2:07:16 - just 44 seconds back of Wanjiru. He comes into London in fine form as he ran 59:59 for 2nd in Lisbon.
Do we think he'll win? No we don't. Why? Because this guy excels in hot weather. If the forecast for London was hot, we might pick him.
He's never won a big marathon, though, that wasn't in warm weather. Expect him to be in the mix, however, as 3 times he's been in the top 4 at London and has also been the runner-up in New York and Chicago.
Bettor's Take: 9/1 odds for the Olympic silver medallist? Crazy that Lel is that big of a favorite. However, it's important to remember he's 36. He's fast approaching the end of his window of opportunity to remain a big-time player. But those are great odds.
7) Zersenay Tadese, 27, Debut, Odds 9/1.
That should be enough right there. But this guy has a lot more to offer than just that. Let's review his accomplishments.
On the track, he's a proven commodity. In 2004, he was Eritrea's first ever Olympic medallist (bronze in the 10k).
In cross-country, he's a proven commodity. In addition to his world title in 2007, he also got the silver in 2005 and the bronze in 2008 and 2009 (just last month in Amman).
Okay, that's great you say, but how's he going to do on the roads? The thing is, he may be most accomplished on the roads. The last 3 years he's won the world half marathon championships (in 2007 it was the world road running championships as it was 20km) including the 58:59 he ran to win in 2007. Additionally, in 2005, he ran what the time was the fastest half marathon in history (59:05 on a point-to-point course that didn't count as a record).
Big-time half marathon success is normally a very strong indicator of future success in the marathon. Tadese is one of 4 men in history to go under 59:00 in the half. The three ahead of him are all very accomplished at the marathon. Wanjiru is the Olympic champ, Haile Gebrselassie is the world record holder, and Patrick Makau just ran 2:06:14 in his debut on April 5th in Rotterdam. What about the guys right behind him on the all-time half list? Wilson Kiprotich hasn't run a marathon, Evans Cheruiyot has a PR of 2:06:25 (to win Chicago last fall), and Paul Tergat is the former world record holder in the marathon.
Given his past prowess in both XC and the half, Tadese reminds us very much of Tergat. We're expecting great things from him on Sunday. We aren't the only ones, as Steve Cram says "all eyes will be on Zersenay Tadese."
Those That Can't Win (In order of who is most interesting to us)
1) Atsushi Sato, 33, 2:07:13, Odds 40:1
2) Luke Kibet, 26, 2:08:52, Odds: 25/1
Speaking of courses in weird conditions, Kibet did pick his races wisely, as he picked up a cool $50,000 by winning the Lagos Half Marathon earlier this year when lots more people went to the better publicized RAK Half Marathon. He also won the Kenyan Prison XC title this year. We were going to say he had no chance to win in London but we are taking that back. We'll give him the smallest of chances as who knows what those races
were truly like?
Also this guy is a fighter as he survived a machete attack during the post-election violence in Kenya last year.
3) Tessema Abshero, 23, 2:08:26, Odds 50/1
4) Felix Limo, 28, 2:06:14, Odds: 16/1 - The guy is no slouch. He's run 2:06:14 before and was the winner over Lel in London in 2006. However, his best days appear to be past him as his 2:06:14 is from 2004. Last year, he was just 8th in London (2:10:34) and 5th in Fukuoka (2:10:59). In 2007, he was 3rd in London before DNFing in Chicago. Another subpar showing in London and this 28-year-old will probably be relegated to trying to pick up cash at the B marathons of the world. BT: Stay away.
5) Henrick Ramaala, 37, 2:06:55, Odds: 40/1.
6) Yonas Kifle, 32, 2:07:34, Odds: 40/1
1) Meb Keflezighi, 33, 2:09:52. Odds: 40/1
How in god's name is his PR only 2:09:52? It's really remarkable that it could be that slow. The simple answer is injury.
Keflezighi is certainly due for a good experience in London as he was forced to withdraw before starting (on account of injury) in 2005 and 2008 and he was forced to drop out mid-race in 2007.
2) Dathan Ritzenhein, 26, 2:11:07. Odds: 100/1
Sunday's race will go a long way in proving whether Ritz truly is anywhere close to Hall. In our minds, they aren't remotely close to each other in the marathon. Yes, we do understand Ritz beat Hall in the Olympics, but that was a battle for 9th and 10th place in a race where 3 places matter. At the trials, Hall beat him by over 2 minutes and a 2:06:17 PR is a long way from 2:11:07.
Ritz's coach, Brad Hudson, thinks Ritz is progressing nicely as a marathoner as he said in the same universalsports.com article, "
Since our love affection has officially gone from Ritz to Hall, we'll split the difference. We think Ritz is doing well as a marathoner but we still think he's 2 minutes behind Hall. So Hall's PR is 2:06:17. That means Ritz will likely run 2:08-low on a good day. Hall might have been in slightly better shape this year, so if he's in 2:05-high shape, then maybe theoretically Ritz can run 2:07-high in London. We'd more realistically expect a 2:08 or 2:09, particularly if there isn't a seconnd
pack to run with.
If the weather is good, and Wanjiru is on, then he very well may get the world record. If Wanjiru doesn't win, we think he'll bomb. So he'll either be really good or really off.
It's hard to predict how Tadese will do but his entrance to the marathon ranks has us excited even if he couldn't do a full prep given World XC, which was four weeks ago.
Predictions: Given the number of people born in Morocco that have been nailed for EPO, we hate picking Moroccans in major races but have no choice to pick two in the top 5 here. Look for a DNF from Lel. If Lel is healthy, then this race is gonna be insane.
1) Wanjiru 2:03:54 (New WR) 2) Gharib 2) Tadese 2:04:25 (fastest debut ever) 3) Kebede 4) Goumri ... Meb 2:09:13, Ritz 2:09:43 ... Lel DNF.
Our bets: Put $60 on Wanjiru at 10/3 to win and then put $20 each on Gharib and Tadese at 9/1 and $15 Goumri at 12/1. If any of those guys win, you're looking at a nice cool profit of 65 dollars roughly on a $115 investment. Bernard Madoff can't give you those type of returns.