Each year the ING Philadelphia Distance Run assembles some of the strongest men’s and women’s elite fields of any half marathon in the world, and this year is no exception. Adding particular excitement to the 2009 event is the strong possibility of an American winner on the men’s side for the first time since Khalid Khannouchi recorded the last of his three Philly victories in 2000. And you have to go all the way back to 1986 to find the last American-born winner (Khannouchi was born and raised in Morocco and became a US citizen in 2000, just months before that year’s Philly Distance run), Mark Curp.
Here are the top five men’s and women’s contenders in the 2009 ING Philadelphia Distance Run:
A Canadian by way of Eritrea and Ethiopia who attended the University of Wisconsin, Simon Bairu, 26, was the 2004 and 2005 NCAA Cross Country champion. Bairu won the 5000m at this year’s Canadian Athletics Championships.
Does Ryan Hall still need an introduction? Now 26 years old, Hall owns the American record for the half marathon (59:43), which he hopes to take down in this year’s ING Philadelphia Distance run, and the fastest marathon time for an American-born runner (2:06:17). If he is on track in his preparations for October’s New York City Marathon, Hall will be very difficult to beat on Sunday.
If anyone can beat Ryan Hall on Sunday, it is likely to be Kenya’s Benjamin Limo. He is arguably the faster runner, having won the 2005 world championship at 5000m and three World Cross Country Championships medals. However, Limo has accomplished little on the roads and is getting on in years, having celebrated his 35th birthday in August.
Brother of five-time ING Philadelphia Distance Run winner Catherine Ndereba, Kenya’s Samuel Ndereba, 32, is no slouch himself. He brings a half-marathon PR of 1:01:50 to the race and finished fifth in Philly last year.
Ryan Hall is not the only outstanding American male runner on this year’s ING Philadelphia Distance Run start list. Not to be overlooked is Josh Rohatinsky, who won the 2006 NCAA Cross Country Championship while at Brigham Young University. He ran 1:02:45 in last year’s Rock ‘N’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon.
Romania’s Constantina Dita was the surprise winner of the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, at age 38. While surprising, her gold medal was not shocking, as she had already won the 2004 Chicago Marathon, placed second in the 2005 London Marathon, and won a bronze medal in the 2006 World Championships Marathon. Does she still have enough left to win with her 40th birthday looming?
A late entrant to the race, Helen Kimutai, 31, of Kenya is also a real threat. She set a half-marathon PR of 1:09:27 in Berlin earlier this year and won the 2007 San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon.
Last year’s third-place finisher, Irene Limika, is back in hopes of finishing a spot or two higher on the podium. The 30-year-old Kenyan represented her country in this year’s World Championships Marathon and won the Beach to Beacon 10K in August.
Indisputably the most accomplished female marathoner of all time, Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba won the Philadelphia Distance Run five years in a row from 1998 to 2002. Now 37, Ndereba has shown no signs of slowing down, as evidenced by her silver medal in last year’s Olympic Marathon.
The most interesting wild card in this year’s race is Derartu Tulu, 37, of Ethiopia. While her accomplishments on the track are staggering, and include two Olympic gold medals at 10,000 meters; and while she has had some success on the roads, with a victory in the 2001 London Marathon, she has raced little and won even less in recent years.