2017 Worlds Men’s Marathon Preview: Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola Does Battle With a New Crop of Kenyan Studs

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By LetsRun.com
August 1, 2017

The 2017 IAAF World Championship men’s marathon field took a hit last week when it was announced that Kenenisa Bekele, reigning Berlin Marathon champion and all-around legend, would not be running for Ethiopia as previously announced. While it’s a bummer that Bekele won’t be in the English capital, this is still a World Championship race, and as a result the field is one of the deepest of the year, with 24 men who have broken 2:10 in their career.

The headliner is 25-year-old Kenyan Daniel Wanjiru, who will return to London looking for his second title in four months after outdueling Bekele at the London Marathon in April. He’ll be challenged by Olympic 10k bronze medalist Tamirat Tola (2:04:11 course record in Dubai in January) and fellow Ethiopians Yemane Tsegay, the reigning silver medalist, and 2014 Dubai champ Tsegaye Mekonnen, all of whom are 2:04 guys. Add in 2012 Olympic/2013 world champ Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and there’s a good deal of quality at the top of this field.

We break down the race — and the chances of Americans Elkanah KibetBobby Curtis and Augustus Maiyo, below.

What: 2017 IAAF World Championship men’s marathon

When: Sunday, August 6, 5:55 a.m. ET (10:55 am local).  he men’s and women’s marathon are being run on the same day but at different times (the women’s race is at 10 a.m. ET (2 pm local)).

Where: London, England

How to watch: *TV & Streaming Info (Live on NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Gold in the US starting at 5:00 am ET)

Full 2017 Worlds Schedule Schedule

Course map

The course is a mostly out-and-back 10k loop running along the north bank of the River Thames from the start/finish area at Tower Bridge down to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, which will be run four times. You can watch a cool visualization of the course below or check out the course map here.

Abbott World Marathon Majors

Worlds is one of seven Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) events (Tokyo, Boston, London, Worlds, Berlin, Chicago, New York). The current series, Series XI, began at this year’s London Marathon and concludes with the 2018 London Marathon. At the end of the series, the athlete with the most points wins the $250,000 grand prize with second taking $50,000 and third $25,000. 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.

The current men’s leader (remember, there’s only been one race) is Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru, who won London. Wanjiru is entered at Worlds, so a win here would guarantee him at least a share of first place in Series XI.

Weather

Per Weather.com, as of Monday, the long-term forecast has a high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 57 on Sunday, with 12 mph winds out of the southwest. That wind is not insignificant as the runners will be exposed along the river and runs roughly southwest/northeast. So on each loop, the runners will have a headwind on the way out but a tailwind on the way back. Though there will be some humidity (69%), there should be much better conditions than the last World Champs, which were run in the sweltering heat and humidity of Beijing.

Notable entrants (full field here)

Name Nation PB Comment
Tamirat Tola Ethiopia 2:04:11 CR in Dubai in Jan, won Prague Half, Olympic bronze medalist in 10k
Daniel Wanjiru Kenya 2:05:21 London wasn’t as loaded as usual this year but it was still a great field and he won it
Gideon Kipketer Kenya 2:05:51 Ran almost 3-min PR to take 2nd in Tokyo in Feb
Tsegaye Mekonnen Ethiopia 2:04:32 Only 10th in Dubai but won Hamburg in April; this will be his 3rd marathon in 8 months
Yemane Tsegay Ethiopia 2:04:48 2015 silver medalist won Fukuoka in December but only 12th in Boston in April
Kaan Kigen Ozbilen Turkey 2:06:10 PR’d in Seoul last year to take 3rd before finishing 17th in Rio
Geoffrey Kirui Kenya 2:06:27 Big talent won Boston and could grow into even bigger star with a win here
Stephen Kiprotich Uganda 2:06:33 2012 Olympic/2013 world champ finished 2nd in Hamburg, 5 secs behind Mekonnen
Shumi Dechasa Bahrain 2:06:43 5th in ’15 but has only raced once since — 8th in Stockholm in June (2:15:35)
Yohannes Ghebregergish Eritrea 2:08:14 23-year-old coming off 1:34 PR in Tokyo
Hiroto Inoue Japan 2:08:22 Ran 2:08 for 8th in Tokyo at age 24 in just his 2nd career marathon
Alphonce Felix Simbu Tanzania 2:09:10 5th in Rio, then won Mumbai and PR’d in London this year
Yuki Kawauchi Japan 2:09:18 Famed “Citizen Runner” was 17th at Worlds in ’11, 18th in ’13
Solomon Mutai Uganda 2:09:59 Reigning bronze medalist was 8th in Rio, 3rd at Lake Biwa in March
Callum Hawkins Great Britain 2:10:52 9th in Rio and has looked great in ’17, running 60:00 + 60:08 for HM
Bobby Curtis USA 2:11:20 Rough Olympic Trials (62nd) but rebounded to tie his PR of 2:11:20 in Frankfurt in October
Eric Gillis Canada 2:11:21 37-year-old was 10th in Rio last year
Elkanah Kibet USA 2:11:31 WCAP athlete was 7th at ’15 Chicago, 7th at ’17 Hamburg; this is his 4th marathon of ’17
Augustus Maiyo USA 2:13:16 Ran 5-minute PR to finish 7th in Boston in April
Tsepo Mathibelle Lesotho 2:15:39 Led Worlds by 25 secs late in the race in ’15, which led Wejo to name him his 2015 Athlete of the Year

2017 Major Marathon Champions

Tamirat Tola — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:04:11 pb (2017 Dubai), 59:37 half
Last two marathons: 1st 2017 Dubai (2:04:11), DNF 2015 Berlin

Tola has been on a roll since the start of 2016. It began at the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships, where he ran a PR of 60:06 in rainy, windy conditions to take 5th and continued onto the track where he broke 27:00 for 10,000 twice before earning the bronze medal in that distance at the Olympics. Tola returned to the roads in 2017 and though he’s only raced twice, both races have been magnificent.

The first came in Dubai in January, where Tola torched an always deep field by over two and a half minutes to set the course record in 2:04:11 (technically Dubai isn’t a World Marathon Major, but we’re counting it for the purposes of this article). Then in April, he laid the smackdown on Galen Rupp and a handful of others to win the Prague Half Marathon by over a minute in a big PR of 59:37.

Tola’s versatility is very impressive. He’s one of only five men in history to have broken 27 for 10k, 60 for the half marathon and 2:05 for the marathon. The others were all studs; in fact, except for Mosop, they were all super studs: Paul TergatHaile GebrselassieMoses Mosop and Eliud Kipchoge.

If Tola is still in that kind of shape in London, he will be tough to beat, but this will be his first championship/non-rabbitted marathon. We’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.

Daniel Wanjiru — Kenya, 25 years old, 2:05:21 pb (2016 Amsterdam), 59:20 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2017 London (2:05:48), 1st 2016 Amsterdam (2:05:21), 4th 2016 Prague (2:09:25)

As if Wanjiru winning London in April wasn’t impressive enough, he accomplished it in epic fashion, holding off Kenenisa Bekele over the final miles in a thrilling duel. Add to that his 2:05:21 course record in Amsterdam last year (where he won a race that saw eight men break 2:07) and Wanjiru enters Worlds on the back of two incredible victories.

Wanjiru, like Tola, has also used the Prague Half Marathon as a springboard to success as he won that race last year in 59:20 — 17 seconds faster than Tola ran on the same course in 2017.

Wanjiru will be looking to make amends for Kenya’s disastrous showing at the last World Championships in Beijing. Despite entering that race with a dream team featuring the last two world record holders (Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto), only one Kenyan finished the race: Mark Korir in 22nd place. With Wanjiru and Boston champ Geoffrey Kirui leading the way, expect a lot more from the Kenyans in London.

There’s only one worrying sign: in his only road race post-London, Wanjiru could only manage 65:21 at the Zwolle Half Marathon on June 10, finishing almost four minutes behind the winner.

Geoffrey Kirui Wins Boston 2017

Geoffrey Kirui Wins Boston 2017

Geoffrey Kirui — Kenya, 24 years old, 2:06:27 pb (2016 Amsterdam), 59:38 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2017 Boston (2:09:37), 7th 2016 Amsterdam (2:06:27), 3rd 2016 Rotterdam (2:07:23)

Kirui and Wanjiru comprise the vanguard of a new generation of Kenyan marathoners and the duo have combined to win the two most prestigious races of 2017 so far with Kirui triumphing in Boston six days before Wanjiru broke the tape in London. Wanjiru is slightly faster over both the half (59:20 vs. 59:38) and full (2:05:21 to 2:06:27) marathon distances, and actually beat Kirui head-to-head in Amsterdam last fall in a race that saw both men set their personal bests.

And while both men still have room for improvement (a somewhat scary thought), Kirui probably stands to improve the most as after his Boston win, his coach Renato Canova told us that Kirui only does “maximum 70% [of] the preparation of a real marathon runner.” He ran 2:06 in Amsterdam off of 70 miles per week and his extremely high altitude training location (Keringet, situated at 8,900 feet) is very hilly which means it can be hard for him to do fast workouts. At the same time, though, that environment allowed him to become the last man standing and outduel Galen Rupp in Boston. The World Champs course is fairly flat, but the strength Kirui has gained training in the hills of rural Kenya should still help him in a championship race.

Five More Fast East Africans

Yemane Tsegay — Ethiopia, 32 years old, 2:04:48 pb (2012 Rotterdam), 61:37 half
Recent marathons: 12th 2017 Boston (2:16:47), 1st 2016 Fukuoka (2:08:48), 3rd 2016 Boston (2:14:02)

Tsegay hasn’t broken 2:08 in over three years, but he’s run particularly well in championship-style marathons, especially this very race. He made a name for himself by finishing 4th at Worlds in 2009 and has since followed that up with an 8th in 2013 and a silver medal two years ago in Beijing. His last marathon outing in Boston was rough — he faded to 12th in 2:16 — but he won the marathon before that, in Fukuoka in December. That race in Boston was out of character for Tsegay, who had finished in the top five of his previous eight marathons. He may not win, but he should be up there in this one.

Gideon Kipketer — Kenya, 24 years old, 2:05:51 pb (2017 Tokyo), 59:53 half
Recent marathons: 
2nd 2017 Tokyo (2:05:51), 3rd 2016 Chicago (2:12:20), 1st 2016 Mumbai (2:08:35)

Kipketer rounds out a young Kenyan squad (Wanjiru, at 25, is the veteran) and like his countryman, he enters Worlds on the heels of the best race of his career to date. For Kipketer, that was a 2:05:51 pb in Tokyo in February, in a race where only Kenyan legend Wilson Kipsang could defeat him. Kipketer’s two previous marathons (3rd Chicago, 1st Mumbai) were also impressive results, making him an intriguing semi-longshot pick for gold in London. At least we view him as a semi-longshot. Paddy Power clearly thinks differently as they’re only offering 4/1 on him.

Tsegaye Mekonnen — Ethiopia, 22 years old, 2:04:32 pb (2014 Dubai), 61:05 half
Recent marathons: 
1st 2017 Hamburg (2:07:26), 10th 2017 Dubai (2:11:54), DNF 2016 Berlin, 12th 2016 Boston (2:22:21), 3rd 2016 Dubai (2:04:46)

Mekonnen, who set the world junior record in his debut in 2014 and is still only 22 years old (officially) is very much a boom-or-bust commodity. He’s attempted 10 marathons in his career, and nine of them can be neatly divided into boom or bust (the other was 2:08:06 for 5th at 2014 London):

Boom
2014 Dubai (1st, 2:04:32)
2016 Dubai (3rd, 2:04:46)
2017 Hamburg (1st, 2:07:26)

Bust
2014 Frankfurt (DNF)
2015 London (DNF)
2015 Amsterdam (DNF)
2016 Boston (12th, 2:22:21)
2016 Berlin (DNF)
2017 Dubai (11th, 2:11:54)

Busting in 60% of your career marathons is not a good thing, and the fact that two of his three great races came on the same course in Dubai — about as different from a championship marathon as you can get, apart from the weather — isn’t a great sign. This will also be his third marathon in less than seven months, a challenge for any elite runner.

The one positive — apart from his immense talent — is his win in Hamburg in April. He got a nice scalp in that race in Stephen Kiprotich and the last guy to win Worlds (Ghirmay Ghebreslassie) also did it on the back of a solid run in Hamburg as he ran 2:07:47 there four months before winning Worlds. With a dozen other quality guys in this field, however, Mekonnen is too risky to pick for a medal.

Stephen Kiprotich — Uganda, 28 years old, 2:06:33 pb (2015 Tokyo), 61:15 half
Recent marathons: 2nd 2017 Hamburg (2:07:31), 14th 2016 Olympics (2:13:32), 4th 2016 Tokyo (2:07:46)

Kiprotich was built to run championship marathons, and he’s got the hardware to prove it: an Olympic gold from 2012 and World Championship gold from 2013. In his most recent championship appearances, he’s slipped slightly (6th at Worlds in ’15, then 14th at the Olympics last year) but he rebounded with a solid 2:07:31 in Hamburg in April. He’s still only 28 years old, so he should have a few more good years of marathoning in front of him.

Alphonce Felix Simbu — Tanzania, 25 years old, 2:09:10 pb (2017 London), 61:59 half
Recent marathons: 5th 2017 London (2:09:10), 1st 2017 Mumbai (2:09:32), 5th 2016 Olympics (2:11:15), 3rd 2016 Lake Biwa (2:09:19)

There’s a lot to like about Simbu. He was 12th at Worlds in 2015 as a 23-year-old but has improved drastically since then and his last three marathons have all gone very well. He was 5th in Rio last year and as the highest-placing finisher from that race to be competing in London, he has to be considered a medal threat. But since then, he’s also won Mumbai in January and run a PR of 2:09:10 in London — despite going out too hard and having to hold on for dear life on the way home (62:45/66:25 splits). The only concern: three marathons in seven months is a lot for a 25-year-old.

The Home Favorite

Callum Hawkins — Great Britain, 25 years old, 2:10:52 pb (2016 London), 60:00 half
Recent marathons: 
9th 2016 Olympics (2:11:52), 8th 2016 London (2:10:52)

Hawkins represents Great Britain’s best shot at a medal in the marathon since Jon Brown finished 4th at back-to-back Olympics in 2000 and 2004 (no British man has ever medalled in the marathon at Worlds; Charlie Spedding was the last to do so in the Olympics, taking bronze in 1984). At 2:10:52, his PR isn’t particularly dazzling, but he’s the #3 returner from the Olympics (9th overall) and will have the home crowd behind him on the first Sunday of competition.

But Hawkins, who went to college for a few years in the U.S. at Butler, is more than a good story: he’s an exceptional runner. He ran 60:24 to win the Great Scottish Run last year on what was later revealed to be a short course, but that was no fluke: he went out and ran 60:00 to win the Marugame Half in Japan in February and 60:08 to finish just four seconds back of Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa at the NYC Half in March. He also became the first Brit to defeat Mo Farah in seven years when he pasted the Olympic champ at the Great Edinburgh XCountry in January.

The bad news is that Hawkins may no longer be in that kind of shape. He had to scratch the Great Manchester Run 10K due to illness and dropped out of Payton Jordan with hamstring tightness. Most recently, he dropped out of the Olomouc Half Marathon on June 24. At his best, Hawkins would have an outside shot at a medal, but given his recent results, the British drought looks set to continue.

Best of the Rest/Americans

Based on 2017 form, we’d expect one of the above men to win Worlds, but predicting major marathons can be a crapshoot. Two years ago, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie entered Beijing as a little-known 19-year-old with a runner-up finish in Hamburg on his resume and left as the world champion. So don’t be surprised if one of these men contends for the win on Sunday.

  • Solomon Mutai, 24 years old, Uganda (2:09:59 pb): Mutai earned a surprise bronze medal at Worlds two years ago and followed that up with an 8th-place finish in Rio. He ran 2:09:59 for 3rd in his most recent marathon at Lake Biwa in March.
  • Kaan Kigen Ozbilen, 31 years old, Turkey (2:06:10 pb): The former Mike Kigen of Kenya ran a PR of 2:06:10 in Seoul last year but was only 17th in Rio and then DNF’d in a different Seoul marathon in October.
  • Shumi Dechasa, 28 years old, Bahrain (2:06:43 pb): He’s got a fast PR and was 5th in 2015, but he’s only raced once since and it didn’t go well (8th in Stockholm in June in 2:15).
  • Eric Gillis, 37 years old, Canada (2:11:21 pb): Gillis’ ceiling is limited, but he’s consistently in the 2:11-2:13 range. It will likely take more than that to medal in London, but he was 10th in Rio last year — the highest finish by a Canadian in the Olympic marathon since 1976.
  • Elkanah Kibet, 34 years old, USA (2:11:31 pb): Kibet was 7th at Chicago in 2015, running his PR of 2:11:31 but has yet to return to those heights since. He’s already run two marathons this year (2:17:25 for 6th in Houston, 2:13:36 for 7th in Hamburg) chasing times to make it to Worlds. Will he have anything left in London?
  • Augustus Maiyo, 34 years old, USA (2:13:16 pb): Maiyo, who was 16th at the Olympic Trials in his first marathon in three years, broke through in a big way with a five-minute PR to take 7th in Boston and put himself on Team USA.
  • Bobby Curtis, 32 years old, USA (2:11:20 pb): After running 27:24 on the track (#7 all-time U.S.), Curtis hasn’t quite been able to scale the same heights in the marathon, but he’s now run 2:11 twice after tying his PR in Frankfurt last fall. He was 9th at the U.S. 25K champs in May (1:17:21).

LRC prediction: 1. Tola 2. Wanjiru 3. Simbu

There’s a decent chance that none of our top-three picks wind up medalling, such is the inherent unpredictability of the marathon. But Tola and Wanjiru are both marathon total studs and we always feel more comfortable backing those kind of runners. Picking Alphonce Felix Simbu for third isn’t exactly going out on a limb (he was 5th in Rio last year) but his 2:09 PR looks downright modest compared to some of the more heralded names in the field. Simbu was 80/1 for the win on Paddy Power as of Monday and might be a nice longshot play for gold.

 

Talk about the marathon on our fan forum / messageboard: Agents, can someone tell me why so many studs from Africa sign up for the World Champs marathon each year?

Full Coverage including previews of all mid-d and distance events in our 2017 IAAF London Worlds Special Section.


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