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Monday, October 04, 2010

Chicago Marathon 2010 preview: Close finishes

A quick look back at some recent and epic marathon racing

This week begins the countdown to the 33rd Chicago Marathon, which is now just over five days away.  Even with Ryan Hall's late withdraw from the field, it promises to be a competitive bunch with several athletes well capable of going under 2:06 with a few capable of sub-2:05.  But the real story is that the current champs from Chicago (Wanjiru), Boston (Robert Cheruiyot), and London (Kebede) are all lining up to do battle next Sunday.  It is a young field, as all of those athletes are 23 or younger, and we can add to them 2:05 man (2010 Rotterdam) Vincent Kipruto.  But wait!  Don't forget about Deriba Merga, too, the hard-running 2009 Boston champ who recently ran a 1:02:31 half at altitude----2456 m (8355 feet) in Bogota, Colombia.

But before analyzing the fields too much, we just wanted to have a quick and fun look at some recent and close marathon finishes, in the hopes that this year in Chicago we see some more of this.  (NB:  if you are reading this in an email message because you are a subscriber, click here to go to the site to watch the videos.)

Also, some time late Sunday night, The Science of Sport saw its two millionth visitor!  Thanks to all of our readers for helping us hit this milestone even faster than it took us to get to one million visits, we are truly grateful for your support!

Berlin Marathon 2003:  Tergat holds off pacer to be first under 2:05

First up is Paul Tergat's WR in Berlin in 2003, where he barely held off a surging Sammy Korir to set the record and be the first under 2:05.  Interestingly, Korir was then the second fastest of all time for a couple of years, but never before nor since that race has he even come close to that time again.  It begs the question why, and speaks to the "non-physiological" barriers to achieving peak performance.


New York City Marathon 2005:  Ramaala vs. Tergat

Next up is NYC 2005, where defending champ Hendrik Ramaala fought hard and nearly pulled off a repeat win from Paul Tergat.  It was the closest NYC finish on record.  It gets good right around the 1:45 mark of the clip, and there is a fantastic overhead shot of both runners going for the finish, both fighting for the win, and one does not need to know anything about running to see how hard these two are fighting for it.  Simply amazing!

Chicago 2007:  Ivuti pips Gharib at the line

Everyone recalls Chicago 2007, but perhaps not because of the amazing finish between relatively unknown Patrik Ivuti and veteran Jaouad Gharib.  Ivuti was fourth in the 10000 m in Sydney, but who remembers that?  Beyond that, he was a distant 5th in Chicago 2005 and no one owuld have bet on him to beat a seasoned racer like Gharib.  Again, amazing aerial shot of the two turning on to Columbus Drive, the finishing straight, with Gharib at least five meters in front of Ivuti.  Watch at around 40 s, as Gharib looks over his shoulder and seemingly cannot believe he has not dropped Ivuti!

Chicago 2007:  The women's race

Incredibly, after watching Ivuti barely beat Gharib, after waiting for the replay from a marathon race to confirm the winner, anyone watching surely could not believe what happened in the women's race.  Debutante Adriana Pirtea seemed to have the race wrapped up with what everyone thought was an insurmountable lead over Berhane Adere.  The highlight:  starting at around 2:20, when Pirtea begins waving to the crowd, all the while as Adere is storming down Columbus behind her!

Rotterdam 2009:  Kibet vs. Kwambai in 2:04:27

Finally, just last year in Rotterdam, another amazing race down the stretch as James Kwambai and Duncan Kibet fought it out to become the third and fourth fastest men over 42.2 km.  You can read a more detailed race report here, but it was a actually a three-man race until just before 40 km, when Abel Kirui was finally gapped by 20 s.  We see the result of Kwambai's attack around the one-minute mark, and at that point it looks like a winning move---few would have bet against him at that point, but we all know what happened next:

This was the best video we could procure to embed here, because Universal Sports has blocked embedding of their footage of the race.

The novelty of a close finish---or not?

Back in 2008, as part of our London Preview, we looked at over 100 races of the past 10 or so years to investigate the winning margin.  Surprisingly, a full 25% of those races were decided by 10 s or less.  That means at least two runners were together until quite late in the race.  Below is a reproduction of that analysis, showing the margin of victory sorted from highest to smallest.  Missing is the 2009 Rotterdam finish between Kibet and Kwambai.

So bring on "10-10-10," as the race is being promoted around the city here, because with Kebede now starting there is at least one person who on paper can perhaps match Wanjiru down the stretch, and with the late addition or Merga we can be assured of some aggressive racing if he follows his standard operating procedure.  

The long range forecast is looking fantastic with cool evening temps (50s F/13-14 C) , plenty of sunshine, and light winds.  If that holds, the chances of a real challenge for the record go up quite a bit, because two of the runners who have the potential are starting the race.  

Stay tuned this week for a look back at some of the key issues around the 2007 race, including  fluid balance and dehydration, and the effects of heat on performance!



Nich Haber said...

Here's a pretty grainy video of the amazing finish of the 2003 Men's London Marathon. Abera, Baldini, Joseph Ngolepus, Tergat and Abdelkader El Mouaziz all laying on the line.