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2009 ING New York City Marathon Elite Race Handicapping

Can an American man win for the first time this century? Will Paula three-peat?

Written by: Sean McKeon

The 2009 ING New York City Marathon is not only the final Marathon Major of the year, but it is also the 2009 US men’s marathon championship. The combination of competitions has made for an extremely deep men’s race. The women’s race, on the other hand, has seen a share of top tier athletes withdraw, leaving the talent pool shallow, although not without firepower. Here are the official predictions for all three races:

Men’s Race:

Gharib is poised for his first Marathon Major title. Photo:
Gharib is poised for his first Marathon Major title. Photo:

With the withdrawal of two-time-champion Martin Lel, the entire field took a deep breath and the race became wide open. It’s hard to bet against the defending champion, and two-time-winner, Marilson Gomes dos Santos. The Brazilian seems to run inspired in the Big Apple and makes decisive moves that others will need to key off of later in the race. The Moroccan duo of Jaouad Gharib and Abderrahime Bouramdane should be feared, as they could very well work together through much of the race. Gharib is the stronger of the two men as he is coming off an Olympic bronze from 2008 and a personal best performance (2:05:27) this spring in London.  Bouramdane was a runner-up in Boston and fifth here in 2008, proving his mettle in major marathons. The top Kenyan contenders should be James Kwambai and Patrick Makau. Kwambai is in the sub-2:05 club with a 2:04:27 from Rotterdam this year and was runner-up at Boston in 2007. Makau has broken the one-hour mark in the half marathon more times than any man in history (seven), and has a 2:06:14 marathon on the record from earlier this year in Rotterdam.

Ryan Hall leads the American men into NYC. Photo:
Ryan Hall leads the American men into NYC. Photo:

Let us not forget the Americans, among whom the pressure will be on Ryan Hall and two-time top-three New York City finisher Meb Keflezighi. Hall and Keflezighi will vie not only for the overall race win but also for the US marathon championship. On paper it is a three-horse race: Ryan Hall vs. Meb Keblezighi vs. Abdi Abdirahman. But the unexpected is always to be expected in a marathon. Hall has the top personal best of the group with his 2:06:17, Meb has the Olympic silver medal to his name, and Abdirahman is the top returning American from 2008. One has to wonder how much will US championship factor into the overall race. My guess is very much so, and not because of the three top contenders, but because of the extreme depth of the American field.

Hall, Meb and Abdirahman may have better overall credentials but there are plenty of other Americans ready to take them on. Jason Lehmkuhle placed fifth in the 2008 Olympic trials marathon and an impressive eighth place in New York last year. Brian Sell is a 2008 Olympian in the marathon and it looks like this race may be the swan song for this popular runner. We don’t know much about his fitness but he always comes ready to grind. Track specialist Bolota Asmerom is running New York for the second time, having finished in a disappointing 2:16 in 2008. Asmerom is a big talent but we are yet to see if he can perform over the longer distances.

Debutantes Jorge Torres and Josh Moen are strong dark horses for an overall top-10 placing and potential US podium. Torres has rarely raced over 10,000m in his career but is coached by former world record holder and New York City champion Steve Jones and wouldn’t toe the line unless he was prepared to race hard. Moen had an amazing race in October at the US 10-Mile Championship, where he took Abdirahman to the line, and is ready to make his mark at the full marathon distance. says:


1.    Jaouad Gharib – Morocco
2.    James Kwambai – Kenya
3.    Ryan Hall – USA
4.    Meb Keflezighi – USA
5.    Patrick Makau – Kenya

US Men’s Championship:

1.    Ryan Hall
2.    Meb Keflezighi
3.    Jason Lehmkuhle
4.    Abdi Abdirahman
5.    Josh Moen

Women’s Race:

Racliffe hopes to hold up four fingers on Sunday. Photo:
Racliffe hopes to hold up four fingers on Sunday. Photo:

Unfortunately, the women’s race is far less exciting, on paper, than the men’s race. Defending champion Paula Radcliffe of the UK is the world record holder, three-time champion and, debatably, the greatest women’s distance runner of all-time. Taking down Paula will be tough, and with the shrinking women’s field, it may indeed be virtually impossible. The main competition for Radcliffe will come from Kenya’s Salina Kosgei and Japan’s Yuri Kano. Kosgei is the reigning Boston Marathon champion and was a top-10 finisher in Beijing last year. Kano has an impressive 2:24:43 debut marathon time from 2007 and an equally impressive 1:08:57 half-marathon personal best from 2008. However, history is not on Kano’s side, as no Japanese woman has ever been victorious in New York.

Outside of the “top three,” the strength drops drastically, as five other major competitors were forced to withdraw for various reasons over the weeks leading up to the race. However, there is always a chance for a dark horse to emerge from the pack over 26.2 miles. If that is the case look for Russian ageless wonder Ludmila Petrova, the 2008 runner-up. The 41-year-old set a masters world record of 2:25:43 last year, but it is only a matter of time before age forces her off the podium. Countywoman Tatyana Petrova, no relation, is the reigning Los Angeles Marathon champion and a converted steeplechaser.  Still in her first year as a marathoner, she could turn heads if she is able to run under 2:26 for the third time this year, which may be good enough for a podium position.

American Magdelena Lewy Boulet is the top American contender. The 2008 Olympic trials runner-up ran 2:30:19 in that race and has looked good so far this year, setting a personal best 1:11:46 at the Rock ‘N’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon in October. says:

1.    Paula Radcliffe – UK
2.    Yuri Kano – Japan
3.    Salina Kosgei – Kenya
4.    Tatyana Petrova – Russia
5.    Ludmila Petrova – Russia