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NEW YORK — With a sly grin and shift of his eyes, defending TCS New York City Marathon champion Wilson Kipsang sent a warning to his challengers: you better watch out. Speaking here steps from the race’s finish line, the 33-year-old Olympic bronze medalist assured members of the media he is more than ready for Sunday’s 26.2-mile race through the city’s five boroughs.
“I think when I compare my condition from last year to this year, I think this year I am a bit [more] well prepared and I think I can run faster than last year,” said Kipsang, sporting a purple adidas track suit and bright yellow training shoes.
Twelve months ago Kipsang won what resembled more of a boxing match than footrace, exchanging scowls and surges with Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa through Central Park. After giving his foe one last chance, Kipsang sprinted away to victory in 2:10:59, securing the race win, Abbott World Marathon Majors crown, and its accompanying title of ‘Marathon King of the World.’ The Majors title was also worth a $500,000 bonus.
His New York City Marathon debut also served as a reconnaissance mission. While running conservatively through the race’s first half, Kipsang soaked up knowledge of the course, atmosphere, and undulating terrain. He knew he’d return in the near future.
“Last year was my first time so I don’t even know how the course would be,” he began. “But this year I know how the course was and I prepare very well training like the course, doing endurance and lots of speed.”
Training in Kenya, Kipsang said he’s primarily worked on up and downhill fartleks. A specialty workout of 10 x 1,000-meter repeats ranging between 2:48 and 2:45 was completed in his buildup, the final indication that he is ready to take the starting line on Sunday.
Kipsang seeks to join John Kagwe as the only Kenyan man to win in consecutive years; Kagwe took home titles in 1997 and 1998 (It should be noted that compatriot Geoffrey Mutai won twice in a row, though his victories were bookends to the race’s cancellation in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy).
When questioned about an apparent hiccup at this year’s IAAF World Championships Marathon in Beijing, Kipsang scoffed. His DNF was nothing to be concerned about, and was more of a tempo workout.
“It was like a normal long run in Kenya [with surges],” said Kipsang. “It was like I was training all through for this race.” Before, during, and after the World Championships, his eyes were on a return to New York.
Kipsang is an Olympic medalist, has won marathon titles at six cities around the globe (including New York, London, Berlin, and Frankfurt), and is a former world record holder. He’d like to add New York’s course record to his lengthy resume, eyeing Mutai’s 2:05:06 mark from 2011. Last year’s chilly temperatures and gusting winds dashed any hopes of a record run.
“It can depend on how the weather will be and how the guys will be ready to cooperate. Because, you know, a race like this with no pacemakers, if the other guys are ready to cooperate then we can run a good time,” he said. Kipsang did note that he will keep an eye on Geoffrey Kamworor, this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Champion and 10,000m silver medalist on the track. Kamworor’s has five marathons under his belt, though has not cracked 2:06:12. Kipsang, on the other hand, has six sub-2:05 clockings.
Kipsang isn’t worried, per se. He laughs and mingles with supporters, and even gives a big hug to legendary filmmaker Spike Lee, the Grand Marshal of Sunday’s race. (“They run mad fast,” Lee told Race Results Weekly. “I have mad respect for him.”)
In a way, Kipsang seems like a native New Yorker, embracing the city’s culture and electric atmosphere. Of his three career starts in New York, he’s won twice—last year’s Marathon and the 2013 United Airlines NYC Half—and placed fourth once (at this year’s UAE Healthy Kidney 10K).
“What I learned mostly about last year’s race is that when I prepare fully for a race, I really have the potential to handle a very tactical race. Last year’s was very tactical, very windy. Everybody didn’t want to push,” he said. “I saw that I really prepared myself very well to handle a very fast pace at the end.”
In the year since, Kipsang’s confidence has blossomed. He’ll bring that to the line on Sunday, ready for an encore presentation.
“Everybody has his own strategy,” he said. “A lot of pressure, but I am in a position to handle the pressure.”