2015 London Marathon Men’s Preview: Kipsang, Kimetto and Kipchoge Lead The Greatest Marathon Field Ever (Again)
Fantasy Marathoning Becomes Reality As This Field Is RIDICULOUS
April 23, 2015
With the Boston Marathon in the books, it’s time to shift our attention to the spring’s other major marathon — the 35th Virgin Money London Marathon, which will take place on Sunday. It’s a race we’ve been salivating over for three months, ever since London announced the men’s elite field which contains LetsRun.com’s top five marathoners from 2014. London organizers have billed the race as a “Clash of Champions” as it’s the first time world record holder Dennis Kimetto and the world’s best marathoner Wilson Kipsang will race over the marathon distance. But to be fair, there’s another guy that deserves to be billed as a headliner: Eliud Kipchoge, Track & Field News‘ #1-ranked marathoner in 2014 and the other defending champion of a major fall marathon (Kipchoge won Chicago, Kimetto won Berlin and Kipsang won New York).
As usual, there’s ridiculous depth behind the big guns with the second-fastest guy in history on a record-eligible course in 2:03:13 man Emmanuel Mutai and the second-fastest guy in history across all courses in 2:03:02 man Geoffrey Mutai leading the way. In all, there are four men who have broken 2:04 and eight who have broken 2:05. As recently as 2011, only one man had broken 2:04 in the history of the world. Four years later, there will be four guys who have done it lining up in the same race!
We tell you everything you need to know about Sunday’s race below (women’s preview coming later in the week).
What: 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon
When: Sunday, April 26, 2015. Women’s elite start at 9:20 a.m. (4:20 a.m. ET); men’s elite start at 10:10 a.m. (5:10 a.m. ET)
Where: London, England
How to watch (U.S. viewers): Live online at UniversalSports.com or tape-delayed on Universal Sports Network starting at 9:00 a.m. ET.
How to watch (UK viewers): Coverage begins on BBC Two at 8:30 a.m. and then switches to BBC One at 10:00 a.m.
Prize money (amount is the same for men’s and women’s races)
1st: $55,000 6th: $7,500 11th: $1,500
2nd: $30,000 7th: $5,000 12th: $1,000
3rd: $22,500 8th: $4,000
4th: $15,000 9th: $3,000
5th: $10,000 10th: $2,000
Several time bonuses, from $100,000 for sub-2:05 or $75,000 for sub-2:06 down to $1,000 for sub-2:11
Course record (2:04:29): $25,000
World record (2:02:57): $125,000
Abbott World Marathon Majors
London is one of six Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) events (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York). AWMM changed its scoring system earlier this year (previously, champions were crowned over a two-year cycle; now the cycle is one year plus one race). Currently we are in AWMM Series IX, with the standings as follows after two races (Tokyo and Boston):
T-1. Endeshaw Negesse, 25 points
T-1. Lelisa Desisa, 25 points
T-3. Yemane Tsegay, 16 points
T-3. Stephen Kiprotich, 16 points
T-5. Wilson Chebet, 9 points
T-5. Dickson Chumba, 9 points
At the end of the series (which concludes at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon), the athlete with the most points wins the $500,000 grand prize. Scoring is 25 points for a win, 16 for 2nd, 9 for 3rd, 4 for 4th and 1 for 5th. Only two races can count in a given series.
|Name (Country) PB||Comment|
|Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:03:23||LRC’s #1 marathoner in ’14 set CR in London last year, then won NYC|
|Dennis Kimetto (KEN) 2:02:57||Chicago CR holder set WR in Berlin in September|
|Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 2:03:13||Ran 2nd-fastest record-eligible time ever in Berlin in September; 2011 champ|
|Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:05||LRC’s #2 marathoner in ’14 won Rotterdam & Chicago last year|
|Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 2:03:02||4-time major winner was 6th in London & NYC last year|
|Sammy Kitwara (KEN) 2:04:28||Has finished top-4 in Chicago last 3 years, including 2nd in ’14|
|Tsegaye Mekonnen (ETH) 2:04:32||’14 Dubai champ was 5th last year and is still only 19|
|Stanley Biwott (KEN) 2:04:55||’14 runner-up ran 59:20 half on March 8|
|Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:05:27||2nd at Xiamen Marathon on Jan. 3 (2:06:54)|
|Samuel Tsegay (ERI) 2:07:28||Runner-up at last year’s World Half Champs (59:20)|
|Serhiy Lebid (UKR) 2:08:32||39-year-old PR’d last year with 2:08:32 for 4th in Seoul|
|Aleksey Reunkov (RUS) 2:09:54||Bronze in Euro Champs marathon in August|
|Ghebrezgiabhier Kibrom (ERI) 2:10:00|
|Koen Raymaekers (NED) 2:10:35|
|Scott Overall (GBR) 2:10:55||2012 Olympian was 19th last year|
|Michael Shelley (AUS) 2:11:15||Commonwealth Games marathon champ|
|Javier Guerra (ESP) 2:12:21||4th in Euro Champs marathon in August|
|Bekir Karayel (TUR) 2:13:21|
|Hermano Ferreira (POR) 2:13:28|
|Christian Kreienbuhl (SUI) 2:15:35|
|Anuradha Cooray (SRI) 2:15:51|
|Mert Girmalegesse (TUR) 2:17:45|
|Cesar Lizano (CRC) 2:17:50|
|Stijn Fincioen BEL 2:17:57|
|Matt Hynes (GBR) 2:43:40|
|Pedro Ribeiro (POR) debut||65:20 HM pb|
Marathons Don’t Get Better Than This
Sunday is the equivalent of Christmas morning for running fans, even down to the ridiculously-early wakeup time. And while the start times couldn’t be much worse from an American perspective, especially for fans on the West Coast, we hope that every running fan figures out a way to watch the 2015 London Marathon, either live or tape-delayed, as the race has a chance to be very special (we’ll see if we can creat a page where you can watch the race without knowing the results so check back later this week for that page if we can create it).
Getting to see Wilson Kipsang, Dennis Kimetto or Eliud Kipchoge race in any marathon is a real treat. Getting to see them race each other — as well as Geoffrey and Emmanuel Mutai, and sub-2:05 men Sammy Kitwara, Tsegaye Mekonnen and Stanley Biwott is beyond what any fan could hope for. A stud — a real stud — is going to end up seventh or eighth in this race. Just look at what this field has accomplished:
- The last two world records
- Course records at five of the six majors (the 5 most prestigious – Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York)
- Wins at the three major fall marathons in 2014 (Berlin, Chicago and New York) plus a win/course record in London last year
- One man sub-2:03 (most ever in the same race, though that’s kind of cheating)
- Four men sub-2:04 (most ever in the same race)
- Eight men sub-2:05 (most ever in the same race)
- The top five from LetsRun.com’s 2014 Year-End Marathon Rankings
The biggest question to be settled is who is the world’s best marathoner? In 2014, there were three realistic candidates: Kipsang (London CR and NYC victory), Kipchoge (wins in Rotterdam & Chicago, neither slower than 2:05:00) and Kimetto (WR in Berlin). After New York last year, we said confidently it was Wilson Kipsang. And we stand by that. Wilson Kipsang was the best marathoner in the world on November 2, 2014.
But five months have passed since then, and the pecking order may be different now. Track & Field News picked Kipchoge as the top marathoner of 2014; Kimetto was the only one of the three to be nominated for the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award. If one of the Big Three wins, they can definitively state that they are the world’s best marathoner. If someone other than Kipsang, Kimetto or Kipchoge, wins, it gets a little more complicated. Conceivably, you could say that, by default, whoever wins London is the world’s best marathoner because he will have defeated the best field in history. But given Lelisa Desisa‘s win in Boston on Monday (and his narrow loss to Kipsang in NYC last fall), he’d likely have a claim to the title of world’s best as well.
We’ll break down all the top men in detail a little later, but suffice it to say that we’re incredibly excited for this race.
Those Who Do Not Learn History…
With the marathon world record going down in five of the past eight years and the sub-2:00 marathon drawing ever closer (we think it’s still 20+ years away but every time the WR goes down, the talk will increase), times have become ever more important in the world of big-time marathoning. That’s great when a record actually goes down, as it did in Berlin last year, and we’re sure most marathon fans have memorized Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 winning time in that race.
But in many of the most exciting marathons in history, time is secondary to the race. Do you remember Alberto Salazar‘s time from the 1982 Duel in the Sun in Boston? What about Sammy Wanjiru‘s in his epic battle with Tsegaye Kebede over the final mile in Chicago in 2010? Or Wilson Kipsang’s time last year in New York when he gave Lelisa Desisa “The Look” in Central Park?
The point is that while London will garner justifiable hype for assembling a field full of guys who have run ridiculously fast, the whole idea of racing is to, you know, win the race. And in recent years in London, some people may have forgotten that. There has been talk of a world record in London the last two years, and on paper that makes sense as London has three things going for it: 1) It consistently draws the best fields; 2) The course is a net downhill, dropping by over 100 feet from start to finish (it’s still legal for record purposes); 3) Three of the fastest four women’s times in history have been run here (including Paula Radcliffe‘s world record in 2003).
But we don’t want to talk about a world record this year, as the chances of it going down (or even being challenged) are very slim. That’s because. 1) The London men’s course record of 2:04:29 (set by Kipsang last year) is just the 20th-fastest marathon ever run; 2) There are a lot of turns in the course (including 13 of 90 degrees or more between miles 14 and 21 alone — check them out in Sean Hartnett‘s informative course map, which breaks down last year’s race in detail); and 3) Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record is so good now (he took 26 seconds off Kipsang’s previous mark) that it will take a truly spectacular performance to take it down.
In the past two years, the rabbits have gone out too fast for the downhill first 5k and the race has suffered as a result. In 2013, the leaders ran 4:28 for their third mile (14:26 for 5k, which is 2:01:48 pace) and the result was that everyone cratered over the second half of the race. Apparently the rabbits didn’t learn anything last year as, led by Haile Gebrselassie, they ran even faster for the first 5k — 14:21, which is suicidal 2:01:06 marathon pace. We’ve argued before that London and other rabbitted majors should consider getting rid of rabbits (or at least only using them in alternating years) as it makes races more interesting. With rabbits in the field, the racing doesn’t really begin until the rabbits drop out. In non-rabbitted races, anything can happen, as it did last year in Boston when Meb Keflezighi broke away after eight miles and was never caught.
So if any of the London elites — or rabbits — are reading this, please don’t go out way too fast on Sunday. The beauty of running — and especially the London Marathon — is that you get to settle things by getting all the best guys together in the same place at the same time and saying, “Have at it.” When the race is over, we want to be talking about Kimetto, Kipsang and Kipchoge, not the rabbits.
There is one positive on that front. Hartnett told us on our post-race live radio show after th Boston Marathon that for the first time the London course will have 1k course markings for the rabbits (Not that there was much of an excuse in that past as we are pretty certain a car with the projected time flashing on it, drives in front of the marathoners)
The Big Three
Wilson Kipsang — Kenya, 33 years old, 2:03:23 pb (2013 Berlin), 58:59 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 New York (2:10:59); 1st, 2014 London (2:04:29 CR)
Tuneup race: Won Granollers (Spain) Half Marathon in 62:39 on February 1
As we mentioned earlier, Kipsang was the best marathoner in the world at the end of 2014 and recent history has shown that the only way to beat Kipsang is to pray that he makes a tactical mistake. Look at his record in marathons since the end of 2010:
|3/6/2011||Lake Biwa||1st||2:06:13 (CR)|
That is the record of an all-time great in his prime. Kipsang has won a ridiculous eight of his past 10 marathons, setting five course records and one world record along the way. His first defeat in that stretch came in the 2012 Olympic marathon. Though Kipsang hung on for the bronze medal in that race, he probably cost himself a shot at gold by running a crazy 14:11 5k split from 10k to 15k (1:59:41 marathon pace). A hot early pace likewise fried Kipsang in London two years ago as he came through halfway on what was then world-record pace (61:35) and faded — along with the rest of the early leaders — to fifth place.
In the other eight races, Kipsang has been unstoppable and even against studs such as Kimetto and Kipchoge, he’s got the best chance to win on Sunday. He’s the defending champion and course record holder and has more experience on this course than Kimetto (a DNF in his only appearance in ’13) or Kipchoge (London debut) as Kipsang has run this race in each of the past three years, winning twice (his 2:04:44 in ’13 was the #3 time in course history).
Really, if Kipsang is going to lose, one of the following things has to happen:
1) Age/history catches up to him
There’s virtually no precedent for what Kipsang is doing right now in the marathon. His last three marathons (WR in Berlin, CR in London, win in NYC) comprise what is likely the greatest three-marathon stretch by anyone, ever. How long can he keep this up for?
There are two ways to look at it. First, Kipsang turned 33 last month and he ran 1:21 slower in his tuneup race — the Granollers Half Marathon in Spain — than he did last year at the same race (though he won both races). This might be evidence that his performance could slip from “historically great” to merely “great” in London on Sunday. It’s very tough to run three fantastic marathons in a row and even harder to do four.
The other way to look at it is to say that it’s foolish to bet against a guy who has consistently shown he can run at an elite level in the marathon. Until Kipsang actually runs a bad one, why does it make sense to bet against the best in the world?
2) Someone else reaches an even higher level
As good as Kipsang is, if there was ever a race for this to happen, 2015 London is it. Kimetto is coming off a world record in Berlin, Kipchoge ran 2:04:11 in Chicago last fall and Emmanuel Mutai ran 2:03:13 in Berlin. One of those guys could conceivably produce a performance that defeats peak Kipsang (though Kipchoge and Mutai are a combined 1-4 in marathons against Kipsang; Kimetto has never faced him).
3) Kipsang makes a tactical mistake
As we noted above, Kipsang’s two losses in the past five years have come in races in which an early portion of the race was covered very quickly. Even though we spent a whole section earlier in this preview explaining why the field shouldn’t go out too fast early, a really fast early pace could actually lessen Kipsang’s chances (if he follows it). It’s the same as in all sports: the more conventionally a race is run/game is played, the better chance the favorite has. For the underdog to prevail, they need something to shift the odds in their favor and an early surge could do just that.
Kipsang has never DNF’ed a marathon but you never quite know when a problem might spring up in a 26.2-mile race.
Kipsang has been extremely good over the past two years — as good as anyone in the history of the event. But the general rule of thumb is to take the field over any individual in a major marathon. If Kipsang was running a less-loaded marathon, we might be inclined to take him over the field, but not here. Not in London. He’s still the favorite, but against such a loaded field the chances of one of the four above scenarios playing out (or, more likely a combination of 2-3 of them) are probably higher than the chances of Kipsang winning.
Dennis Kimetto — Kenya, 31 years old, 2:02:57 pb (2014 Berlin), 59:14 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Berlin (2:02:57 WR); DNF, 2014 Boston
When Kimetto finishes a race, he’s as just as good as Kipsang, if not better. If you string together his last three marathon finishes, you get this:
2013 Tokyo: 1st, 2:06:50
2013 Chicago: 1st, 2:03:45 CR
2014 Berlin: 1st, 2:02:57 WR
At the very least, that’s on par with Kipsang’s 2013 Berlin-2014 London-2014 NYC stretch, and it’s arguably superior considering just how fast Kimetto ran in Chicago and Berlin. The caveat is that Kimetto actually ran five marathons in that span, but he wound up a DNF in two of them — 2013 London and 2014 Boston. Kimetto is the ultimate boom-or-bust runner. In his six career marathons, he’s won three, failed to finish one and finished runner-up in the other. That was in his debut, when he still ran 2:04:16 (fastest debut ever on a record-eligible course) and may have let training partner Geoffrey Mutai win (by one second) to ensure Mutai locked up the WMM title.
One last thing: Kimetto is a joy to watch. His stride is a thing of beauty; it’s as if the guy was designed in a lab by some mad marathon scientist. In fact, his stride is quite literally the key to his success in the marathon — he was an unknown until one day in 2008, when Mutai noticed his stride while on a run and asked him to join his training group.
Eliud Kipchoge — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:04:05 pb (2013 Berlin), 59:25 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Chicago (2:04:11); 1st, 2014 Rotterdam (2:05:00)
Tuneup race: 60:50 for 6th at RAK Half on February 13
It’s guys like Kipchoge that inflate our expectations for the Kenenisa Bekeles of the world. Kipchoge, the 2003 world champion at 5,000 meters who owns track pbs of 7:27, 12:46 and 26:49, has made the transition to the marathon look so easy that you wonder why every track stud can’t run 2:04 for the marathon.
What we’re actually dealing with is a freak of nature — a 3:50 miler who has also run 2:04:05 for the marathon. That’s just not fair. The dude is a faster miler than Matt Centrowitz and Leo Manzano and also happens to be the sixth-fastest marathoner of all time.
Kipchoge, like Kimetto, has been almost unbeatable since turning to the marathon in 2013. He won his debut in Hamburg in April 2013 (2:05:30) and in 2014 won Rotterdam (2:05:00) and Chicago (2:04:11). His only defeat came in Berlin in 2013, where it took a world record by Kipsang to beat him (Kipchoge still managed to PR, running 2:04:05).
Even though it seems as if he’s been around forever (he won Worlds in 2003 at age 18), Kipchoge is the youngest of the Big Three at age 30 and you get the sense that he still hasn’t peaked as a marathoner. We’ll get to see just what he’s capable of on Sunday as this field will test him like no other in his career so far.
Four Guys Who Could Win If the Big Three Falter
Emmanuel Mutai — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:03:13 pb (2014 Berlin), 59:52
Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Berlin (2:03:13); 7th, 2014 London (2:08:19)
Tuneup race: 63:11 for 8th at Barcelona Half Marathon on February 15 (60:42 winning time)
It’s not really fair to call Mutai or any of the guys in this section afterthoughts, but it’s also difficult to imagine them winning if one of the top three runs to his potential. Mutai, though, might be the best bet to break up the top guys as he has a habit of finishing second in major marathons. Since the start of 2010, he’s finished second a staggering six times in WMM events (twice in London, twice in NYC and once each in Chicago and Berlin; he also won London in 2011). Additionally, he has broken 2:04 twice (it’s only happened 10 times in history) and amazingly failed to win either race (all the other guys who broke 2:04 won the race except for Moses Mosop at the wind-aided 2011 Boston Marathon).
Mutai is a real stud; if not for Kimetto, he’d be the world record holder, a three-time major champion and the course record holder in Berlin and Chicago. He’s certainly got a shot to win this race, especially given that he knows the London course very well: this will be his eighth straight appearance, during which time he’s finished in the top four five times and never lower than seventh.
The one cause for concern is his tuneup race. He ran just 63:11 at the Barcelona Half (2:29 back of the winner), which was his slowest half marathon (not at altitude) since 2010. However, it should be noted that the last time he ran that slow (63:18 for 5th at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Half Marathon), he got second six weeks later at the NYC Marathon.
Sammy Kitwara — Kenya, 28 years old, 2:04:28 pb (2014 Chicago), 58:48 half
Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Chicago (2:04:28); 3rd, 2014 Tokyo (2:06:30)
Tuneup race: 28:51 for 1st at World’s Best 10K in Puerto Rico on March 1
Kitwara’s best distance is probably the half marathon (he’s broken 59:00 twice and has the fastest pb in the field at 58:48) but he’s developing into a very good marathoner. He’s not on the level of Mutai, but he’s dropped his PR in each of the last three years (2:05:54 debut in ’12; 2:05:16 in ’13 and 2:04:28 in ’14), culminating in his best marathon ever last fall, a runner-up finish in Chicago in 2:04:28. Running 2:04:28 on any course stamps you as a contender in a major and Kitwara is young enough (28 years old with only five marathons under his belt) that he has still has room for improvement.
A win for him on Sunday would be a massive step forward, but a top-three finish wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Plus we know he’s in shape after he won his tuneup race at the World’s Best 10K over some excellent road runners (Cherry Blossom champ Stephen Sambu, NYC Half champ Leonard Korir and BAA 5K champ Ben True).
Tsegaye Mekonnen — Ethiopia, 19 years old, 2:04:32 pb (2014 Dubai), 61:05 half
Last two marathons: DNF, 2014 Frankfurt; 5th, 2014 London (2:08:06)
Tuneup race: 61:05 for 7th at RAK Half on February 13
Remember this guy? The guy who ran 2:04:32 last year at age 18 to win his debut in Dubai? After DNF’ing Frankfurt last fall, he’s back and looking to build on his fifth-place showing in London last year. Mekonnen was only seventh in his tuneup race in February, but it came at the ultra-competitive RAK Half and he still managed to PR in the half at 61:05 (a time which put him just 15 seconds behind Eliud Kipchoge). Even if Mekonnen is a few years older than his stated age, 2:04:32 is a monster time for a debut marathon. He clearly has a ton of talent.
London is so deep this year that you can run a great race and still finish fairly far back. If Mekonnen can repeat his fifth from a year ago, that will still be a good performance for him.
Stanley Biwott — Kenya, 29 years old, 2:04:55 pb (2014 London), 58:56 half
Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 London (2:04:55); 5th, 2013 New York (2:10:41)
Tuneup race: 59:20 win at CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon on March 8
Biwott has improved consistently throughout his marathon career. His WMM debut came in 2013 in London, where he was 8th; he bettered that in his next marathon in NYC that fall, when he was 5th, and then improved again last spring in London, hanging with Kipsang for almost 40 kilometers before settling for second in a PR of 2:04:55. The only way for Biwott to improve on that is to win the whole thing, and while that may be a tough ask, he came close last year and enters in fine form after running 59:20 for 13.1 last month.
One More Time?
Geoffrey Mutai — Kenya, 33 years old, 2:03:02 pb (2011 Boston), 58:58 half
Last two marathons: 6th, 2014 New York (2:13:44); 6th, 2014 London (2:08:18)
Mutai, a late addition to the London field, is like a volcano, and the question is, at age 33, whether he’s dormant or extinct. At this point, it’s safer for his foes to label him dormant. If the competition goes into the race thinking he’s extinct and he explodes in London, spitting hot fire, things aren’t going to work out well for them. After all, Mutai is only 13 months removed from defeating Mo Farah at the NYC Half and 17 months from his last marathon victory, also in New York. Despite a couple of disappointing marathons in 2014, he still ran 27:32 on the roads in September, not the kind of performance you’d expect from someone who is “done.”
At the same time, however, Mutai is 33 and appears to have dealt with some injuries in 2015. He was initially entered in Tokyo on February 22 but withdrew due to injury. He also seemed set to run the Prague Half Marathon on March 28 but didn’t show up to that either (maybe because London became a possibility?). If this was 2011/2012 Mutai, we’d still be skeptical of his chances to come back from injury and win against a field like London’s. It seems very unlikely that the 2015 version will contend for the win on Sunday if he’s not 100%.
The Best of the Rest
- Ethiopia’s Tilahun Regassa won Rotterdam in 2013 and Eindhoven last year. He was also the runner-up in Xiamen on January 3 (2:06:54). He’s a solid marathoner but it’s hard to see him having much of an impact in London.
- Samuel Tsegay of Eritrea was second to World XC champ Geoffrey Kamworor at the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships, but he was only 18th last year in London and was 23rd in his tuneup half marathon (62:47 at the Marugame Half Marathon in Japan on February 1, three minutes behind the winner).
- Commonwealth Games champion Michael Shelley of Australia was 10th in 2011 but with a 2:11:15 pb and experience in championship marathons (he was Commonwealth silver medalist in 2010), he might have been better off running Boston on Monday.
- Serhiy Lebid (Ukraine; 2:08:32 pb in Seoul last year), Aleksey Reunkov (Russia; bronze at European Championships marathon in 2:12:15) and Javier Guerra (Spain; 4th at Euro Champs marathon in 2:12:32) are among the top marathoners in Europe, but in effect they’ll be running a different race from the top Africans. No European-born athlete has finished in the top seven since Italy’s Stefano Baldini was fifth in 2006.
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LRC Prediction: We want to see if anything comes out of the press connferences this week. So we’ll make our pick later but Kipsang is the man to beat unless we hear something shocking.