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LRC FLORA London Marathon Women's Preview

Mikitenko Returns To London Looking For Her 2nd Win In 2 Tries

By: LetsRun.com
April 23, 2009

Sunday's 2009 FLORA London Marathon has a very strong women's field, but returning champion Irina Mikitenko of Germany will toe the line as the overwhelming favorite. Mikitenko pulled away last year in London before heading to Berlin in the fall, where she smashed the 2:20 barrier, running 2:19:19 and becoming the 4th-fastest women's marathoner of all time.

Behind her there is a small army of elite women who hope to unseat her (well, about 5 or 6 might actually have a shot - albeit a long, long shot - at this). Unlike the men's side of marathoning, which has been ruled almost exclusively by Kenyans, Ethiopians and Moroccans, the women's side is far more international. There are some fantastic Africans in this year's London field, some excellent Japanese and Chinese runners, a strong European contingent and an excellent Russian team. 2:34 marathoner Kate O'Neill leads the American charge.

We'll separate the field based on continents. The African contingent is very strong and features a relative newcomer whom we're very excited about - Kenya's Martha Komu. London will be Komu's first world marathon majors race, but she deserves serious attention. Last year she burst onto the scene with a come-from-behind 2:25 win in Paris, earning her a spot on Kenya's Olympic marathon squad behind 4-time Boston champion Catherine Ndereba and 2009 Boston Champion Salina Kosgei. Komu ran superbly, finishing 5th in the Olympics, only 16 seconds from a medal. We like Komu's inexperience, boldness and ability to finish with speed in a race like this.

Ndereba, 2nd only to Paula Radcliffe on the all-time women's marathoning PR list, will lace them up for the streets of London for just the second time after claiming that Boston ran out of room for her this year. Ndereba hasn't run really fast for a long time but continually places in the top 2-3 in major marathons, including a 2008 Olympic silver medal and a 5th-place finish in the ING NYC Marathon. Her only performance on the streets of London yielded a 2nd-place 2:19:55 in 2003.

Representing Ethiopia again in London are veterans Gete Wami  and Berhane Adere. Adere has won Chicago twice, Wami won Berlin twice, and both usually get their names in the top-10 in every major marathon they run. The most interesting thing we've read lately about this duo is from an article mainly focused on 2008 Boston Marathon champion Dire Tune. Tune claims Wami, Adere and the entrenched Ethiopian marathoning crowd weren't too happy with the younger Tune being selected to Ethiopia's Olympic team in 2008, eventually leading to firearms being drawn. That's about as exciting as marathoning can get.

The Europeans will be tough as well. Despite finishing 1st in the 2008 Olympic Marathon, we think the 39-year-old Romanian Constantina Dita is going to have a tough time finishing in the top-5 this year as she appears to be over her peak. But look out for veteran runners from Russia Ludmila Petrova and Svetlana Zakharova. Zakharova came in second to Mikitenko last year and Petrova finished second to Radcliffe in New York in 2008.

Ludmila Petrova is a definite threat for a top 3 finish. She has experience and a track record of consistency on her side, having run London 7 times, and 6 times finishing between 2:21 and 2:26 en route to 6 top-5 finishes. 2007 was her lone blemish as she DNFed. Although she is now a Masters runner (she'll turn 41 in October), Petrova seems to be a fierce competitor and placed 2nd last fall in NYC behind only Paula Radcliffe. She can grind out a fast pace with the best, so look for her in the final stages with her shuffling stride.

Also watch for hometown favorite Mara Yamauchi (GBR). Though Radcliffe is out, Mara has been running superbly, and is definitely Great Britain's best entrant in either field. She clocked an astounding 68:25 for the half-marathon this year and also ran 32:25 on the roads over 10km. Last year she lowered her marathon best to 2:25. She was 6th in London in 2006 and 2007. Yamauchi probably won't be competing for the win, but we expect her to be a top-7 contender.

From Asia we'll see 4 top runners. The runner who we thought had perhaps the best odds at challenging Mikitenko is 2007 FLORA London Champion Zhou Chunxui of China. She will wear the red and yellow Chinese jersey with ZHOU on the front. And the front is where we expected to see her. She overcame enormous hometown pressure to nab 3rd in the Olympic Marathon last year, ran 68:59 for the half marathon, and looks to be one of the most talented athletes in the field with a sub-2:20 clocking to her name in recent years. But then we found this article which reveals an ankle injury forced Zhou to ease off her normal winter training plan (just your average 180 miles per week) and also that she is sick and hooked up to an IV in her London hotel room!

Japan's Yuri Kano is a top entrant. This will be Kano's first marathon outside of Japan, though in Japan she has run 2:24:27 in the Tokyo Marathon.

Japan's Tomo Morimoto (25) and Mika Okunaga (26) will be battling for the last spot on Japan's World Championships marathon team. Morimoto has the faster personal record by almost 3 minutes, but both of these women are young and inexperienced in major marathons. For Okunaga this will be her first international marathon, and she ran well in 2008 and has run well in 2009. Morimoto has not been performing at a high level thus far in 2009 as she only ran 1:15:00 for a half marathon on March 15th, placing 34th.

More On The Returning Champion From Germany

Mikitenko, who returns to London as the 4th-fastest women's marathoner of all time, stepped up to the marathon distance in 2007 and immediately made a big splash. Last year she won Berlin and London (both World Marathon Majors), lowering her personal best from 2:24 to 2:19:19. Two of the women she trails on the all-time list - Paula Radcliffe (GBR) and Catherine Ndereba (KEN) - were expected to be in the London field this year, though Radcliffe had to pull out to get surgery on her foot.

Mikitenko got the win last year by pushing between 35k and 40k to open up about a 60m gap between herself and eventual 2nd place-winner (and 2009 contestant) Svetlana Zakharova of Russia. The German powerfully closed the race, pushing the gap further between 40k and the finish, where she ultimately won by almost 30 seconds. We remember being amazed at Mikitenko's vitality in the latter stages of the race.

Looking at the 35km splits below, one can see that Salina Kosgei (KEN) - now commonly known as the 2009 John Hancock Boston Marathon Women's Champion - sat in 6th at 35k. Kosgei displayed some of the same finishing spirit she displayed in Boston to move up to 4th by the finish. Also, who would have guessed Constantina Dita would be receiving the Olympic gold medal in 2008 after getting dropped by 7 women in London?

1 1 108 » MIKITENKO, IRINA (GER) W35 2:00:26
2 2 105 » ZAKHAROVA, SVETLANA (RUS) W35 2:00:26
3 1 106 » WAMI, GETE (ETH) W30 2:00:27
4 3 103 » PETROVA, LUDMILA (RUS) W35 2:00:30
5 3 102 » ADERE, BERHANE (ETH) W30 2:00:32
6 2 107 » KOSGEI, SALINA (KEN) W30 2:00:33
7 1 109 » AIT SALEM, SOUAD (ALG) W25 2:01:10
8 4 104 » DITA, CONSTANTINA (ROM) W35 2:01:52
9 2 115 » PIRTEA, ADRIANA (ROM) W25 2:01:58
10 5 111 » SKVORTSOVA, SILVIA (RUS) W30 2:02:33

Of Mikitenko's principal competitors from 2008, several will return for another shot at the new champion in 2009. 2nd-Placer Zakharova will be back, so are Ethiopians Gete Wami and Berhane Adere, Russian Ludmila Petrova, and Romanian Constantina Dita.

Wild Card Entrants

Russia's Liliya Shobukhova ran 14:23.75 last year for 5,000m and briefly held the indoor world record in the 3000m run (8:27.86). We're not totally surprised to see that both of those times were run at Russian meets, and that her 2nd-best performances are nowhere near her best performances, especially when she runs in places like Helsinki. That being said, this will be her first marathon and she certainly is a mega-talent. If only the race were in Kazan!

America's Kate O'Neill got an elite bib this year. Given her 2:34 marathon PR, we wonder whether O'Neill plans to run with the rabbits and what she hopes to run. There are about 5 or 6 women who have run almost 15 minutes faster than the Yale alum, but we hope to see the number one American entrant have a good experience.

Our Predictions*:

1. Irina Mikitenko (GER)
2. Martha Komu (KEN)**
3. Gete Wami (ETH)
4. Ludmila Petrova (RUS)
5. Svetlana Zakharova (RUS)
6. Berhane Adere (ETH)
7. Catherine Ndereba (KEN)
8. Yuri Kano (JPN)
9. Mara Yamauchi (GBR)
10. Constantina Dita (ROM)
11. Zhou Chunxiu (CHN)

*We doubt hardly anyone is reading by this point, but if you a) happen to be reading and b) want to put money on the race, we would say put your money on Martha Komu and Mikitenko. You'll get huge odds on Komu, but she is the only runner who we think has a really good chance of beating Mikitenko. The reason? Komu is young, isn't used to getting beaten in marathons, and has finishing speed. Wami, Petrova, Zakharova, Adere, Ndereba and Dita are all getting to the tail end of their careers. They have much better shots at winning hilly or hot weather marathons, not time-trial type marathons such as London.

**We said to put your money on Deriba Merga at 9-1 going in to Boston and we wish we had taken our own advice as he won by almost a minute (of course, we picked him 3rd in our predictions).

Biggest Disappointments

1. No Paula. Paula vs. Mikitenko would have been mouth-watering.
2. No Deena. Deena broke 2:20 at London just a few years ago. Her presence would have added a great American component to the race. She's coming back from injury and not ready for the marathon yet.
3. No Kara! We can't believe she was actually thinking of running. Her running would have been just awesome in every way and a great story. It's not like track and field could have used another great story or two!! Instead, she's taking the safe route and not running. How great would it have been if she was top 3 in 2 world marathon majors in the span of 6 days?
4. Ethiopians Wami and Adere plus Russians Zakharova and Petrova are just dull. Right? Are we the only ones who feel this way? It's weird, the Russian tennis stars are usually pretty exciting, but their marathoners are dull. Maybe marathoners in general are just dull. Nah, that's not it, is it? At least Mikitenko is a hot ticket right now and we really are excited to see Kenya's Martha Kamu in her 3rd big marathon.
5. How OLD is this field? Seriously. What do these numbers mean to you? 36, 36, 35, 40, 39, 38, 34, 35. Well, to us they mean the ages of top runners Mikitenko, Ndereba, Adere, Petrova, Dita, Zakharova, Wami and Yamauchi. And can you name a rivalry between any of these runners? No, there is no rivalry. Mikitenko is almost certainly going to win, and the rest of these old women are going to finish somewhere in the top 10. It's time for some new blood. Paula is 34, she doesn't have many cracks left (pun intended). On the men's side there seems to be an endless supply of young talent. Just in America we have Ritz and Hall who are both about 26. Go to Kenya and you've got Wanjiru. Tadese is moving up in Eritrea, Merga is a phenom from Ethiopia. Time to stop complaining and go for a run. Thanks for reading.

Elite Women: Entries

Name Nation PR Bib no. Bib name

36, Irina Mikitenko GER 2:19:19 101 IRINA
36, Catherine Ndereba KEN 2:18:47 102 NDEREBA
Zhou Chunxiu CHN 2:19:51 103 ZHOU
35, Berhane Adere ETH 2:20:42 104 ADERE
40, Lyudmila Petrova RUS 2:21:29 105 PETROVA
39, Constantina Dita ROU 2:21:30 106 DITA
38, Svetlana Zakharova RUS 2:21:31 107 ZAKHAROVA
34, Gete Wami ETH 2:21:34 108 WAMI
Yuri Kano JPN 2:24:27 109 KANO
Tomo Morimoto JPN 2:24:33 110 MORIMOTO
35, Mara Yamauchi GBR 2:25:03 111 MARA
Martha Komu KEN 2:25:33 112 KOMU
Mika Okunaga JPN 2:27:16 113 MIKA
Kirsten Melkevik Otterbu NOR 2:29:12 114 OTTERBU
Yesenia Centeno ESP 2:31:16 115 CENTENO
Inga Abitova RUS 2:33:55 116 ABITOVA
Kate O’Neill USA 2:34:04 117 O’NEILL
Liliya Shobukhova RUS Debut 118 SHOBUKHOVA

Awards and Bonuses for Elite Races
Awards for place

1                 $55,000
2                  $30,000
3                  $22,500
4                  $10,000
5                  $7,500
6                  $5,000
7                  $3,500
8                  $2,500
9                  $1,500
10                $1,000

Total: $138,500

Additional Cash Prizes [LRC Note: This is another reason why fast runners love running London]
Any runner recording sub: (not cumulative)

2:28:00 $ 1,000
2:27:00 $ 3,000
2:26:00 $ 5,000
2:25:00 $10,000
2:24:00 $15,000
2:23:00 $25,000
2:22:00 $50,000
2:20:00 $75,000
2:18:00 $100,000

Any runner achieving the following will receive, in addition to the above:

• First in race and men’s course record (2:05:15) - $25,000
• First in race and women’s only course record (2:17:42) - $25,000
• First in race and men’s world record (currently 2:03:59) - $125,000
• First in race and women’s only world record (currently 2:17:42*) - $125,000
* The Flora London Marathon recognises Paula Radcliffe’s 2:17:42, set when winning the Flora London Marathon on 17 April 2005, as the women’s only world record

Much of the information gleaned for this preview came from the fantastic FLORA London Marathon Press Guide.






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