A fast field and quick new course has the top contenders excited to compete on Sunday.
Written by: Mario Fraioli
The announcement of 2004 New York City Marathon champion Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa joining the men’s marathon field is all the buzz this week in America’s Finest City, but people seem to be forgetting about who else will be on the starting line this Sunday at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & ½ Marathon to Benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Defending champion Khalid El Boumlili of Morocco, as well as the fastest man in the field, Kenyan Richard Limo, the former 5,000-meter world champion who owns a marathon best of 2:06:45, will give Ramaala a run for his money — and the $25,000 first prize — all the way to the new finish line at Sea World. And while this year’s race features a different course than the one El Boumlili ran 2:11:16 to win on last year, he has the advantage of knowing the city’s streets better than any one of his competitors. He also has the big-race experience to boot, as evidenced by his third-place finish at the 2008 Boston Marathon. Limo, on the other hand, has run well in his last two marathons, clocking a 2:09:48 to place second at the LA Marathon in March behind a 2:08:43, fifth-place finish at Chicago last fall. He’s excited about the star-studded lineup that Elite Athlete Coordinator Matt Turnbull has put together and hopes that the presence of a pace maker, along with a net downhill over the second half of the course, will lead to fast times and a competitive race.
“Most of the races in America don’t have a pace maker,” Limo said at Thursday’s pre-race press conference. “So that will help us achieve a good result at the end of the race. I’m excited for Sunday.”
Ramaala, better known for his presence at big city marathons, has been laying pretty low since running 2:07:44 to finish fifth last year at London. He ran 2:15:29 to place a disappointing 11th at the Otsu Marathon in Japan in March. The 38-year-old veteran of three Olympic Games doesn’t have the legs he once did, but feels confident in his recent training and expects a fast race on Sunday.
“I’ve done very good training,” Ramaala said on Thursday. “2:08:30 is very achievable, not just for me, but a lot of runners here. I believe a 2:08 is very possible if things go well.”
With four guys in the field sporting personal bests faster than 2:08, Ramaala plans to sit back and let others do most of the work — a strategy that could backfire if someone like El Boumlili decides to shake things up with a big early move similar to the winning one he made at the 7-mile mark of last year’s race.
“As an experienced runner, you just follow, follow, you take it easy and then when the right moment comes, you hit it,” Ramaala said. “It’s very balanced competition. For myself it’s not as stressful as New York, London or an Olympic event. A lot of guys are in good shape, but there’s less pressure here.”
Some of those other guys Ramaala was referring to include Ethiopian Tariku Jafur, runner-up at last year’s LA Marathon who has a personal best of 2:08:10, and Kenyan Kenei Kiprotich, who has been fairly quiet at major marathons the last two years, but won in 2:10:46 at the Xiamen Marathon in China this past January. He has a personal best of 2:07:42 from Hamburg in 2007, where he finished third.
No American has finished in the top ten at San Diego since Josh Cox ran 2:19:58 to place ninth in 1999. Nick Arciniaga of McMillan Elite in Flagstaff, AZ, represents the United States’ best chance to do so at this year’s race, as he is coming off an impressive third-place finish at the recent US 25K Championships. He finished eighth at New York last fall in a personal best of 2:13:46. Allen Wagner of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who ran 2:17:49 to finish 17th at New York last fall, and Gavin Coombs, a former cross country star at North Carolina State who ran 2:25:46 to win his debut marathon at Tobacco Road in March, round out the top Americans.