Emmanuel Mutai hopes to finish top Kenyan on Sunday to impress the Olympic selectors
April 22, 9:20am (elite men and masses)
BBC coverage from 8:30am, live on BBC 1 and online
Emmanuel Mutai says he is on course to successfully defend his title at the Virgin London Marathon on Sunday, despite contracting typhoid last month.
Mutai set the course record of 2:04:40 last year, but faces a tougher task this time round – not only because he is returning from illness, but because he must impress Kenyan Olympic selectors by finishing ahead of his numerous team-mates.
And it just so happens that Mutai’s five compatriots in the British capital on Sunday are some of the greatest marathon runners of all time. They include world record-holder Patrick Makau, second-fastest man of all-time Wilson Kipsang, two-time world champion Abel Kirui, world silver medallist Vincent Kipruto, and three-time London winner Martin Lel.
“The selection is challenging, but I think if I can finish in the top three here I will qualify,” said Mutai. “For me this will definitely be a tougher competition than last year because the field is so strong.
“Everyone has run a good time so I will have to perform at my best,” he added. “Everyone wants to qualify.”
Mutai – along with Makau, Kipsang and Kirui – are four of the six Kenyan athletes who have been pre-selected for the Olympic squad. The other two are Moses Mosop, who finished third and top Kenyan at the recent Rotterdam Marathon, and Geoffrey Mutai, who failed to finish at the Boston Marathon earlier this week.
It means that the selection situation is still very much open. Kipsang in particular is feeling confident, having won his past three marathons and clocking a lifetime best of 2:03:42.
“Training has been going well, I feel relaxed, and now I feel I’m in a position to compete with these guys,” he said. “I don’t feel any pressure because I’ve had enough time to train and now I just want to get out and compete. All the work I have done will come out in the race.”
Such is the depth of Kenyan marathon running, there is a possibility that Makau – the world record-holder at 2:03:38 – could be left of the Olympic team should he fail to impress this weekend. But he says that they are all so close, he will be happy for whoever makes the team.
“All I can say is that as athletes, we are like brothers,” said the 26-year old, who became a father to twin boys in January. “It’s a matter of how much training you’ve done. On one day they might beat me, and on another, if I’ve trained more, I’ll beat them. But there is no pressure between us because we have such great friendship.”
Although Kirui will only be the fourth-fastest Kenyan in Sunday’s race, he is the most reliable championship performer, having won the past two world titles. He hopes that the selectors for his national team do not base their decision on just one race and instead look at the picture as a whole.
“There are many factors on the day which can disqualify someone from selection, such as the weather,” he said. “Everyone wants to get picked but at the end of the day I’m sure they’ll select the right people and we’ll all be happy for them.”
World record-holder with 2:03:38, winner of the 2011 Berlin Marathon.
Winner in Frankfurt last year, second-fastest man of all-time with 2:03:42.
Defending London champion, course record-holder with 2:04:40.
Double world champion, lifetime best of 2:05:04.
World silver medallist, has dipped under 2:06 for three consecutive years.
Three-time London champion, set lifetime best of 2:05:15 when winning in 2008.
Just as competitive as the Kenyan Olympic selection race will be the battle for places on the Ethiopian team for the London Games.
Former world record-holder Haile Gebreselassie has already taken himself out of the running, but such is the quality of marathon running in Ethiopia, he was outside the top 20 marathon runners since the Olympic qualification period began last year.
The Ethiopian federation has similarly announced a provisional list of four names, comprising the top four finishers at the Dubai Marathon earlier this year – Ayele Abshero, Dino Sefir, Markos Geneti and Tadese Tola – three of whom dipped under 2:05 in that race.
But the federation also indicated that there is some flexibility with their pre-selections, so the four Ethiopian entrants for Sunday’s race will be keen to impress.
They include former London winner Tsegaye Kebede (PB: 2:05:18), world bronze medallist Feyisa Lilesa (PB: 2:05:23), former world junior record-holder Bazu Worku (PB: 2:05:25), and former world junior champion Abreham Cherkos (PB: 2:07:29).
Aside from the Kenyan and Ethiopian challenge, there are many other quality runners vying for victory in London. They include:
Jaouad Gharib (MAR)
Former two-time world champion. PB of 2:05:27.
Marilson Gomes dos Santos (BRA)
Twice won the New York Marathon. PB of 2:06:34.
Yared Asmeron (ERI)
Holds the Eritrean national record at 2:07:27.
Samuel Tsegaye (ERI)
Ran 2:07:28 on his marathon debut last October.
Abderrahim Bouramdane (MAR)
Fourth at the 2011 World Champs. PB of 2:07:33.
Zersenay Tadese (ERI)
Half-marathon world record-holder. Marathon PB of 2:12:03.