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NYC Half Preview – Men’s Race

This Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon may not have as deep an elite field as last year, when 15 men went sub-1:02 and five women broke 1:10, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in star power and interesting debuts, particularly on the men’s side. Here’s a rundown of the big names:

  • Wilson Kipsang, the Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon who also owns three sub-2:05 times including a stellar 2:03:42 in Frankfurt two years ago. Kipsang’s PR in the half is 58:59, easily the best in the field.
  • Bernard Lagat, the track superstar making not only his half marathon debut, but also his first race longer than 5000 meters and first on the roads longer than the Fifth Avenue Mile.
  • Dathan Ritzenhein, the two-time Olympian who set a PR in the Chicago Marathon last fall with a 2:07:47 and has a half-marathon best of 60-flat at the World Championships in 2009.
  • Abdi Abdirahman, a four -time U.S. Olympian with a 1:00:29 PR in the half.
  • Deressa Chimsa of Ethiopia, who finished second in the IAAF Half-Marathon Championships last year and has a 1:00:51 PR in the half.

Here are our staff predictions for the men’s race.  A women’s preview will come later.

Gregg: 1) Kipsang, 2) Ritzenhein, 3) Lagat. While I’m not quite crazy enough to pick Ritzenhein for the surprise win, I think he has a much better chance than people realize. He’s focused on this race as opposed to using it as a tune-up for a spring marathon like Kipsang who’s running London, and Abdi who is running Boston. Ritz is coming off his best marathon performance but the half is still his sweet spot, and he ran a great one last fall in Philly, turning in a 1:00:56 just before his strong performance in the Chicago marathon. Lagat will eventually be a major threat in the marathon and half-marathon, but my guess is it will take a race or two to get fully adjusted to the long distances.

Editorial side note: Ritz caused a firestorm among race fans last month for saying that the World Cross-Country Championships, which he is skipping in favor of the NYC Half, were “no longer significant.” He apologized soon thereafter. Now I understand why people were offended, and a world championship is nothing to be scoffed at. However, I also think Ritz had a point, however poor his choice of words. World Cross may have one of the deepest fields in running, but it’s basically a well-guarded secret to all but the most hardcore race fans in the U.S. Marketing of the race appears to be very limited, and the IAAF dropped the 2012 edition of the race and made it biannual. On the other hand, New York Road Runners, the host of the NYC Half and the NYC Marathon, is doing a better job of anyone of marketing the stars of the sport, and oh by the way getting them some paydays.  If we want pro runners to gain higher visibility among fans in the U.S., then what is the best place to showcase their talents – on the streets of New York, zooming past Times Square ahead of 15,000 other runners? Or in Bydgoszcz, Poland?

Brenn: 1) Kipsang, 2) Lagat, 3) Chimsa. I’m not buying the Ritz hype. By a loose application of the transitive property, Lagat beats Chris Derrick (Millrose 5,000m, 2012), Derrick beats Ritz (X-C, 2013), Lagat beats Ritz. I believe the distance at which Ritz would currently beat Lagat is 17 miles and up. Kipsang’s stated goal for this race is 60 minutes, while Lagat’s is 61 minutes. I think Chimsa will try to go with Kipsang, and Lagat will pick him off late. If the temps as currently forecast are in the 30s, I’d bet the “over” on 60 and 61.

As for Bydgoszcz, Poland, the city is hosting World X-C once again after hosting in 2010, which is a head scratcher given that, on the IAAF website, one reads “international sport federations such as the IAAF need to be pro-active when trying to reach new audiences and find new hosts for their events.” In 2010, the Polish men finished 18 out of 21 teams (beating, among others, Iraq), and the women 12th out of 12. Poland did not field teams at the last world X-C champs in 2011, though one of its cross country skiers, Justyna Kowalczyk, has won several world titles and Olympic gold.


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