Will we see another surprise on the streets of London?
The Olympic marathon has proven to be a race where runners other than the favorites often rise to the occasion and wind up on the medal podium. Although many marathons around the world have more prize money and the chance for world records, only the Olympics offers an athlete the prestige of representing their country, the lure of winning a medal and the lifelong honor that goes with each one.
In the men’s race this Sunday, the specter of the late, great Sammy Wanjiru will no doubt be felt be felt on the streets of London. The Kenyan revolutionized marathoning when he ignored tactics and blasted the pace from the gun four years ago in Beijing, winning the gold in an Olympic-record 2:06:32. On paper, Kenya and Ethiopia have the deepest teams in the field, but the Olympic marathon has produced several dark horses, such as Athens in 2004 when Italian Stefano Baldini took gold, while American Meb Keflezighi surprised many by nabbing silver.
Keflezighi returns to the Olympic Marathon this year after failing to qualify in 2008. He surprised many by winning the U.S. Olympic Trials this past January in Houston, breaking the tape there in a personal best 2:09:08, making him the oldest U.S. Olympic Trials champion in history. He defeated pre-race favorite Ryan Hall, who was the runner-up in 2:09:30 and Abdi Abdirahman, who finished third in 2:09:47 to make his fourth Olympic team.
The Americans will have their work cut out for them, however, as East African powerhouses Kenya and Ethiopia send stacked teams. Kenya will be led by Wilson Kipsang, who won the London Marathon this past April in 2:04:44, just 4 seconds off the course record. He’ll be joined by Abel Kirui, two-time reigning marathon world champion and Emmanuel Mutai, the 2011 London Marathon winner and course-record holder. Ethiopia will be led by a trio of sub-2:05 runners. Ayele Abshiro, who ran 2:04:23 at the Dubai Marathon in January, will be joined by Dino Sefir, who ran 2:04.50 in the same race. The team is rounded out by Getu Feleke, who clocked 2:04.50 at Rotterdam in April.
Here’s a overview of the American entrants in this Sunday’s race in London, which will send runners past a variety of iconic landmarks—the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London—on a four-loop course that starts and ends at The Mall, not the Olympic Stadium.