Fast times challenge NYC Marathon course record

November 5, 2011 - 12:40 PM
NYC Matathon Athletics

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo, Meb Keflezighi holds a news conference, in New York. Keflezighi, the 2009 New York City Marathon champion, is the only top American attempting the double of running in New York on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, and in the U.S. trials in January. He is looking to return to the Olympics for the first time since winning the silver medal in 2004. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Watching the New York City Marathon on TV back home in Ethiopia, Werknesh Kidane felt a country's joy and sorrow.

Her husband, Gebre Gebremariam, had just won in his debut at the distance, anointing him as the next great Ethiopian star. But the greatest of all had been halted by injury, and afterward Haile Gebrselassie announced his short-lived retirement.

"In Ethiopia, New York Marathon is very, very big," Kidane, an elite distance runner herself, said Friday through a translator. "Gebre won; Haile lost. People were regretting that Haile lost and people were happy because Gebre won."

Gebremariam will have to share the spotlight again when he defends his title Sunday. Kidane is a last-minute addition to the women's field. She also was supposed to make her marathon debut in New York last year but pulled out because of a calf injury.

Her husband won in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 14 seconds — the sixth-best time in NYC Marathon history, 31 seconds off the course record. That seems like a plodding pace now, just a year later.

In April, Kenya's Emmanuel Mutai, the runner-up behind Gebremariam in New York, shattered the course record at the London Marathon with a 2:04:40. A day later, countryman Geoffrey Mutai (no relation) ran the fastest 26.2 miles in history (2:03:02) in Boston. It didn't count as a world record because the course is considered too straight and too downhill. Gebremariam was third in a personal-best 2:04:53.

Then in September, another Kenyan, Patrick Makau, officially broke Gebrselassie's world record in Berlin with a 2:03:38.

Both Mutais will be challenging Gebremariam in New York. And Geoffrey Mutai believes this course is easier than Boston.

The Kenyans have more at stake than just winning. Their country is so deep in the marathon that neither Mutai is guaranteed a spot at next summer's London Olympics. A fast time and a strong performance in New York could considerably boost their chances.

With a forecast of little wind and highs around 56 degrees for Sunday, the 10-year-old course record of 2:07:43 set by Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia could be in jeopardy.

"If the weather is favorable for us, I think the results of that day will be different from the last few years," Emmanuel Mutai said.

On the women's side, Edna Kiplagat of Kenya won't defend her title after hurting her knee while winning the title at the world championships. Her country still will be well-represented, with London Marathon champ Mary Keitany and Boston winner Caroline Kilel.

Most of the top Americans are skipping New York because the U.S. Olympic trials are Jan. 14 in Houston. The exception is Meb Keflezighi, the silver medalist at the 2004 Games, who will try for a second NYC Marathon title after winning two years ago.

A record field of about 47,000 runners is expected to start the race through the five boroughs.

The Kenyan men will work together to push the pace Sunday but Gebremariam is confident he can keep up. He was surprised and thrilled to see his time in Boston. Now the once-remarkable seems routine.

And Gebremariam has only joyful memories of New York, the place where he became the next Ethiopian star.

"New York is not only running — New York is a business, too," he said of the victory's ripples. "It's so nice for me, and it's a good change in my life."