2016 TCS NYC Marathon International Men’s Preview: Can Studs Stanley Biwott and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Bounce Back From the Olympics Against Mr. Consistent (Lelisa Desisa) & Rising Star Lucas Rotich?
November 1, 2016
The year’s final Abbott World Marathon Major is upon us, as the TCS New York City Marathon will take place in the Big Apple on Sunday. The New York Road Runners have brought in some big international names (defending champ Stanley Biwott, world champ Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, two-time Boston champ Lelisa Desisa) and there’s a deep American field as almost all of the country’s top domestic marathoners will be there either as participants (Dathan Ritzenhein, Tyler Pennel, Matt Llano, Ryan Vail) or grand marshals (Jared Ward, Meb Keflezighi).
As always, there are plenty of storylines in New York, so we’ve broken our previews up this year. Below we take a look at the men’s international field. We’ll continue to roll out previews during the week and will be on-site in New York starting on Thursday to provide insight from the top pros.
What: 2016 TCS New York City Marathon
When: Sunday, November 6, 9:20 a.m. ET (elite men start at 9:50 a.m. ET)
Where: New York, New York
How to watch: The race will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2, with coverage beginning at 9 a.m. ET. You can also stream the race online through WatchESPN. Locally, the race will also be shown on ABC7, with coverage beginning at 7 a.m. ET.
Abbott World Marathon Majors
The Abbott World Marathon Majors consists of eight major marathons — Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, the World Championships and the Olympics — with the winner of each series taking home $500,000. The current series runs from the 2016 Boston Marathon to the 2017 Boston Marathon, and right now Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge is the leader with 50 points thanks to his victories in London and at the Olympics. Kipchoge cannot be caught, only tied, as athletes can only count two marathons per cycle. Since none of the guys entered in New York have won a marathon in this cycle, they’d need to win here and in Tokyo or Boston next year just to tie Kipchoge. And even then, they’d still likely lose out on the $500,000 grand prize as in the event of a tie, the WMM race directors hold a vote to determine the champion and no one is topping Kipchoge’s resume (2:03:05 CR in London and Olympic gold).
Men’s International Field
|Stanley Biwott||Kenya||2:03:51||Defending champ ran 2:03 in London but DNF at Olympics|
|Lelisa Desisa||Ethiopia||2:04:45||3rd and 2nd last 2 years, 2nd in Boston in April|
|Lucas Rotich||Kenya||2:07:17||Won Lake Biwa Marathon in March + Healthy Kidney 10K in May|
|Ghirmay Ghebreslassie||Eritrea||2:07:46||World champ was 4th at London + Olympics in ’16|
|Hiroyuki Yamamoto||Japan||2:11:48||Has never raced outside of Japan|
|Rob Watson||Canada||2:13:29||23rd in London in April|
|Giovanni Gualdi||Italy||2:13:39||36 yrs old. Already run 2 marathons this year, just 2:18 sb.|
|Birhanu Dare Kemal||Ethiopia||2:13:42||Run 2 marathons this year, sb is only 2:17.|
|Mariano Mastromarino||Argentina||2:15:27||PB came this year in Amsterdam, ran 2:18 in Rio for 53rd.|
|Moses Kipsiro||Uganda||2:15:48||12:50 5k guy’s debut in Hamburg in April did not go well|
|Jesper Faurschou||Denmark||2:16:15||Run 2 marathons this year, best is only 2:18. Ran 2:19:59 on Oct. 2.|
|Harbert Okuti||Uganda||2:17:30||Former Iona runner was 11th at World junior XC as a prep. 21st at 2005 NCAA XC. Already run 2 marathons this year.|
|Martin De Matteis||Italy||2:18:20||30-year-old ran 2:18 in Rome this year.|
|Diriba Degefa||Ethiopia||2:19:21||Ran 4:04 mile at 5th Avenue.|
|Bernard De Matteis||Italy||debut||2013 and 2014 European Mountain running champ. Martin’s twin.|
For an Olympic year, New York did a pretty good job assembling its professional field. Certainly, the NYRR would have liked to add either Wilson Kipsang or Kenenisa Bekele, but that would have denied us of a terrific world-record-chasing duel in Berlin. Biwott, Desisa and Ghebreslassie are all studs, while Rotich is a rising marathon star. However, the field isn’t deep at all at the top end as there are only four international men who have broken 2:10 in their careers. That bodes well for an American placing high. Our American preview will go live on Wednesday here: 2016 TCS NYC Marathon U.S. Men’s Preview: What Has to Happen for an American to Win for the First Time Since 2009.
The Three Studs
Stanley Biwott — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:03:51 pb (2016 London), 58:56 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 4th 2015 London (2:06:41), 1st 2015 New York (2:10:34), 2nd 2016 London (2:03:51), DNF 2016 Olympics
Last year, Biwott won his first World Marathon Major in New York, in part because three of his biggest rivals were running New York just 10 weeks after the World Championship marathon in Beijing. Heck, even runner-up Geoffrey Kamworor was doubling back from the 10,000 in Beijing. This time around, it’s Biwott who will be trying to rebound from a late-summer marathon as he DNF’d at the Olympics in Rio on August 21. Now, 11 weeks later, he’s back in New York to defend his title.
But Biwott didn’t win New York last year because his rivals were doubling back from Worlds; he won it because he’s an exceptional marathoner. He closed his final 10k in New York in a ridiculous 28:35, and that includes the Central Park hills. Then five months later in London, he ran 2:03:51, which would have smashed the course record if not for a guy by the name of Kipchoge.
Given that Biwott is the defending champion, has the fastest PR in the field and has been in fine form the last three years, he’d normally be the favorite on Sunday. But that DNF in Rio, which Biwott’s teammate Wesley Korir blamed on a drinks mixup at 30k, looms large. Many runners have dropped out of races only to return on short notice and run well. But Biwott made it a long way in Rio before dropping out — over 35 kilometers in a 42.2-kilometer race — which makes it harder to recover. In addition, this will be the first time Biwott has run three marathons in one year. Already, the gap between London and Rio was the shortest of his career between marathons (17 weeks) and now he’ll have to come back even quicker (11 weeks) for NYC.
If Biwott is on his game, he’s as good as anyone in the world outside of Kipchoge, but it’s hard to know what to expect from the Kenyan on Sunday since he’s run no prep races. We’ll have to talk to him at the elite press conference later this week.
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie — Eritrea, 20 years old, 2:07:46 pb (2016 London), 60:01 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 2nd 2015 Hamburg (2:07:47), 1st 2015 Worlds (2:12:27), 4th 2016 London (2:07:46), 4th 2016 Olympics (2:11:04)
Ghebreslassie is in a similar situation to Biwott. Unlike Biwott, Ghebreslassie actually finished the race in Rio and ran well, taking fourth, but other than that, it’s the same. Over the past two years, Ghebreslassie has proved himself as one of the world’s top marathoners, particularly in championship-style races, so normally we’d expect big things from him in his debut on the rhythm-breaking New York course. But like Biwott, Ghebreslassie has never run three marathons in a year and never run two marathons so close together. If his body holds up, he’ll be in contention for the win.
He also hasn’t run a prep race so we’ll try to get more info from him as well later this week.
Lelisa Desisa — Ethiopia, 26 years old, 2:04:45 pb (2013 Dubai), 59:30 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 2nd 2015 Dubai (2:05:52), 1st 2015 Boston (2:09:17), 7th 2015 Worlds (2:14:53), 3rd 2015 New York (2:12:10), 2nd 2016 Boston (2:13:32)
Ironically, the man most suited to pulling off the Olympics/NYC double did not run in Rio. That would be Desisa, who in the past has shown no difficulty running quality marathons in quick succession. In 2013, he ran three marathons (two wins and a second) and last year he ran four, including a third in New York just 10 weeks after taking seventh at Worlds in Beijing. But Desisa was not selected to the Olympics despite finishing as the runner-up in Boston in April.
Desisa knows the New York course he well after two straight top-three finishes. Two years ago, he finished just seven seconds behind winner Kipsang in NYC, a stellar accomplishment considering Kipsang was the World #1 at the time. Last year, Desisa was third, the best of the rest after Biwott and Kamworor’s epic final 10k.
The other thing to like about Desisa is his consistency. Apart from a DNF in Boston two years ago, he hasn’t run a bad marathon in his career:
Lelisa Desisa’s 10 Career Marathons
Combine Desisa’s experience and consistency with the question marks surrounding Biwott and Ghebreslassie and he’s the presumptive favorite on Sunday. He also has no prep races coming in so we’ll see what he says later this week.
The Rising Star
Lucas Rotich — Kenya, 26 years old, 2:07:17 pb (2015 Hamburg), 59:44 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 1st 2015 Hamburg (2:07:17), 8th 2015 Chicago (2:13:39), 1st 2016 Lake Biwa (2:09:11)
Prep race: 63:27 for 6th at Porto Half Marathon on September 18
Rotich is a big-time talent who looks as if he may have finally found his ideal distance. He was the World Youth silver medallist at 3,000 meters in 2007, the World XC junior bronze medallist in 2008 and in 2009 ran 12:58 for 5,000 meters at age 19. Yet despite some stellar track pbs (7:35/12:55/26:43), Rotich never came close to making a Kenyan senior World Champs/Olympic team and he’s shifted to the roads in recent years, which has proved fruitful. He was runner-up in his second career marathon in Amsterdam in 2014, running 2:07:18, and last year he lowered his PR by one second to win Hamburg, defeating Ghebreslassie (who would win Worlds three months later) in the process. Though he flopped in his WMM debut last year in Chicago (eighth in 2:13:39), he won the Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan in March, a race that in the past has helped launch the careers of Yemane Tsegay (2010 Lake Biwa champ) and Wilson Kipsang (2011 Lake Biwa champ).
Rotich is part of Patrick Sang‘s star-studded training group (who also includes Kipchoge and Kamworor) and he followed up his win at Lake Biwa with a victory at the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in New York in May (28:29). The one concern is that his prep race did not go well: he only ran 63:27 at the Porto Half Marathon seven weeks ago, 2:28 behind winner Daniel Rotich. However, Rotich has bounced back from subpar half marathons to run solid fulls in the past. In 2014, he ran 62:24 six weeks before his 2:07 in Amsterdam, and last year he ran just 64:10 three months before his victory in Hamburg.
Rotich is one of only five guys in the NYC field to have broken 2:08, and as we mentioned above, two of them are coming back on short rest from the Olympics. He’s already a good marathoner, but a win in New York could vault him into a new stratosphere.
In all, there are six men entered in New York with personal bests under 2:10 — Biwott, Ghebreslassie, Desisa, Rotich, plus Americans Dathan Ritzenhein and Abdi Abdirahman (though he’s 37 and has run just one marathon since 2012). Chances are, one of the four men we profiled above is your winner on Sunday, but there aren’t many sure things in this marathon. The next-fastest foreigner is Japan’s Hiroyuki Yamamoto. Yamamoto ran a solid 2:11:48 in his debut last year but he’s never raced outside of Japan and is not a serious contender. The one foreign guy to watch that we haven’t mentioned yet is Moses Kipsiro. Now 30, the Ugandan has some impressive credentials (7:30/12:50/27:04 pbs, WC 5k bronze in ’07, triple Commonwealth Games champ, three top-four finishes at World XC) but his marathon debut this year in Hamburg was a disaster (2:15:48). Still, he ran 60:54 for the half marathon at the Great Scottish Run on October 2 (though some have speculated that the course may have been short) and with his talent we’re not going to write him off after one bad marathon. With that said, it would be a big upset if he were to take down proven stars such as Biwott, Ghebreslassie and Desisa and win the whole thing in New York.
LRC Prediction: We’re leaning toward Desisa, but we want to wait until we talk to the elites in New York before making an official pick.
Talk about the race on our world famous fan forum. MB: Official 2016 New York City Marathon Live Discussion Thread
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