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London Marathon Preview & Picks

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Race organizers and many previews are calling Sunday’s London Marathon “the greatest field ever assembled.” We have no reason to dispute the claim – the men’s field has 10 sub-2:06 runners, a total of 15 World Marathon Majors wins, and the course record holders from every one of the marquee races.

Will the deepest field ever produce the fastest race ever? The pacers, including Mo Farah, are planning to take the lead runners through halfway in 1:01:45, just below world record pace. For perspective, Lelisa Desisa reached the half at last week’s Boston Marathon at 1:04:55, over three minutes slower.

Only nine American-born runners in history have run a half marathon as fast as 1:01:45, but there may be 10 guys in the lead pack at midway Sunday. The weather looks favorable, if slightly cold, with mid-40s temperatures and low winds forecast.

The favorites have to be the three 2:03 guys: Patrick Makau (world record holder with a 2:03:38 in Berlin 2011), Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02 at Boston 2011 on the non-record-eligible course), and Wilson Kipsang (2:03:42 in Frankfurt 2011). . Other top contenders include 2010 London champion Tsegaye Kebede and Ugandan Olympic gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich. Patrick Rizzo is the top American. His 2:13:42 PR is the 20th fastest in the field.

Though the women’s race isn’t getting near the attention it would had Tirunesh Dibaba not been a scratch (perhaps Dibaba and Mary Keitany will go head-to-head next year), it still boasts a deep field. Olympic gold medalist Tiki Gelana from Ethiopia is the favorite, with three top Kenyans Edna Kiplagat, Florence Kiplagat, and Olympic silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo also headlining. Edna finished third at London two years ago, and second last year, before finishing a disappointing 20th at the Olympics. Renee Baillie, the top American heading in, is a scratch with the flu. Now for the staff picks:

Gregg:

  • Difficult to pick against Makau or Mutai, but I’ll go with Kipsang for the win. He’s the only one of the three to have performed well on the London course, winning last year, and he looked suitably fit in his New York Half victory in March.
  • I’ll take Geoffrey Mutai for second. However, I don’t have Makau third. If the pace Sunday goes out as fast as planned, it will be a race of attrition on the second half. That could open the door for a somewhat lesser-known talent to pick off runners late in the race and make the podium. I’ll take Stanley Biwott for third. Biwott won Paris in 2:05:11 in 2012 and was considered a top pick for NYC last year before that race was canceled.
  • As for the world record, I’d love to see it, but I think the field is too stacked. Most of the recent world records have been in races with narrower fields, either Haile Gebrselassie’s time trials in Berlin or Makau’s effort over Haile on the same course. And although London has a reputation as a fast course, Emanuel Mutai’s course record of 2:04:40 in 2011 is now only the 13th fastest performance of all time.
  • On the women’s side,  and I’ll take Tiki Gelana for the win with Edna Kiplagat rebounding with another strong second this year. I’ll take Jeptoo for third.
  • Patrick Rizzo is our next scheduled guest on the podcast. I predict he’ll run a 2:12 PR and crack the top 15.

Brenn:

  • In a tactical race I’d like the favorites, but given a blistering pace from the gun, I’m going to tilt the advantage toward the young guys over the storied vets. Tsegaye Kebede for the win. Kebede, who won bronze at the Beijing Olympics way back in 2008, is still only 26 years old. Kipsang and Mutai are 31. A pair of 22-year-olds, Ayele Abshero and Feyisa Lilesa, for second and third. When Wanjiru won Beijing in 2008, suddenly the marathon became a younger man’s game, and I foresee a return to that theme.
  • On the women’s side I’ll go with Jeptoo to make it two Jeptoos in two weeks, Gelana in second, and Florence Kiplagat in third.    
  • The British sportsbook William Hill lists Patrick Rizzo as a 200-1 longshot to win. An American in Britain who wishes to place a wager on Rizzo may note that the New England Patriots were also 200-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl the first season that Tom Brady took them to the promised land. I won’t be so bold, but I say Rizzo picks off a few of the disposed runners from the lead pack en route to a PR.

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