Wanjiru vs. Kebede: The future of marathon racing?
The Giro is now underway, with young Mark Cavendish wearing pink for now, but the first serious mountain stage is not until Tuesday, so while the sprinters have their way on the flat stages we thought we would double back on the marathon season and take a closer look at the two stars that have emerged: Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) and Tsegaye Kebede (ETH). It was not so much an emergence as staking a claim on the future, because over the past 18 months these two have asserted themselves as future of marathon racing with serious times and performances. Hopefully we can expect more battles like the one we saw in London this year, so it is interesting to see exactly how they match up head to head so far.
Ethiopia vs. Kenya: Part I
The 1990s was full of epic duels between Gebreselassie and Tergat as those two chased each other through the ranks, besting each others WRs along the way and producing incredible racing when they met head to head (think back to the 10000 m final in Sydney!). We have written previously about the differences between the two countries systems and how currently Ethopia leads Kenya in head to head competions, and it is timely now that as these two legends begin their swansongs two younger runners are waiting in the wings to keep the rivalry alive. But before we look ahead, let's look back for one second at how Gebreselassie and Tergat stack up:
Ethiopia vs. Kenya: Part II
Before we get ahead of ourselves, don't misunderstand us---both Gebreselassie or Tergat, while at the end of their careers, are far from being washed up. In fact Gebreselassie has bucked the commonly held belief that a runner's best marathon performance comes in about the third or fourth attempt, because has has now run about eight or nine and the last one was his fastest! So both will still be competitive for a few more years and due to their experience and pedigree one can never truly count them out, but in Wanjiru and Kebede we have the potential for the next generation of head to head performances. Interestingly, the two youngsters are incredibly similar on paper:
The first big difference between their predecessors and this next generation is that both Kebede and Wanjiru are running marathons at the same age that Tergat and Gebreselassie were still running cross country and/or track. Kebede does not even have a 5000 m time on record, and although he is matching Wanjiru in the marathon now he has a 10000 m PB of "only" 28:10. However this does not demonstrate his full potential over that distance because he is running much faster in the marathon than plenty of runners, for example Meb Keflezighi who has a 10000 m PB of 27:14 but only has 2:09 best marathon. So had he stayed on the track he likely would have run sub-26:30 before moving to the road in his late 20s or early 30s.
The youngsters' progressions
Both Kebede and Wanjiru debuted very close to each other in 2007, with Wanjiru's first marathon in Fukuoka '07 and Kebede running Paris earlier that year. Both have now run four marathons and both have progressed in a similar fashion:
So if we exclude Beijing, which was unusually warm and a bit of a different race anyway, both men have lowered their PB with each marathon attempt. Kebede had more to gain as he debuted at 2:08, but recall that in London '09 he stayed with Wanjiru until after 40 km, and was 2nd only because he conceded 10 s to Wanjiru over that last 2.2 km. So both men appear to be quite evenly matched, although it took a few races to get there, but it now sets the stage for their next showdown.
Wanjiru is slated to run Berlin in September, but Kebede's agent must still be shopping him around or negotiating details with one or more races. Rumor has it that Gebreselassie's contract with Berlin specifically exlcudes certain runners from lining up against him, but we cannot confirm that. He has always been keen to push the limits and has never been afraid of trying to set a new record, so is that why he is not "afraid" of Wanjiru? The young one seems to have the ammunition to challenge the Great One, but who knows how it will play out down the stretch? Could Geb effectively end up pacing Wanjiru to a new record and the second man under 2:04?
Wanjiru is keen, stating earlier this year that he thinks he can eventually lower the time to 2:02, so it will be all eyes on Berlin in September for this head to head time trial. If Berlin looks after Geb with an army of pacers as they have in the past two years, and they do not replicate the poor pacing in London thus year, then the smart money will be on a new WR.
The Giro d'Italia: Mountain-top finish on Tuesday
Meanwhile the Giro promises to heat up as early as Tuesday, when we see the first mountain-top finish. Of course European readers can watch it live on television, but those of us in the USA can catch it live on the internet over at Universal Sports and then tape-delayed (Tivo, anyone?) later in the day on their cable channel. If you need to keep one eye on work don't worry---Cyclingnews.com will be doing live text updates as the race unfolds so you can keep up with the attacks. And even if you miss the action, we will post on the racing and give you the insight and analysis you have to come to expect from us!
PS---let's not forget the smoking hot performances from Doha and Japan this weekend, which we will get to in due course!
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Sunday, May 10, 2009
Wanjiru vs. Kebede: The future of marathon racing?