Twice The Winner, Twice Forgotten

Why isn’t anyone talking about two-time champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos?

Why isn’t anyone talking about two-time champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos?

His personal best is almost five minutes slower than the guy everyone in town is talking about. The last marathon he ran was a bit of a flop. But when Marilson Gomes dos Santos takes the starting line of Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon, the Brazilian should be anything but an afterthought to Haile Gebrselassie and the rest of the men’s elite field.

When Gomes, who finished sixth at April’s London Marathon in a near personal best of 2:08:48, comes to New York, he comes here with one objective in mind.

“I race to place,” Gomes said at the pre-race press conference on Thursday. “Time doesn’t matter so much.”

Untrained observers seemingly suffering from short-term memory loss seem to forget the 33-year old has triumphed here twice, most recently in 2008 when his perfectly-timed move to pass Abderrahim Goumri in the race’s final mile led to a 2:08:43 victory in one of the most brilliantly-executed marathon races ever run in the Big Apple.

Two years prior, Gomes first made a name for himself on the streets of New York when his decisive move at mile 19 dropped former world-record holder Paul Tergat, amongst others, in what some observers regarded as a major fluke in a Marathon Major. Last year, he did not finish, and it was if people had already forgotten about the man who won the race just a year before.

“But I think this year is going to be better,” Gomes said, “an easier year because this year we haven’t had so many competitions such as the World Championship, Olympics and Pan-American Games. So I think I’m better prepared for the marathon this year.”

Just as Gebrselassie is admired as an icon in his native Ethiopia, Gomes is larger than life in his own home country. Fans flock to him on the street, posing for pictures and asking for autographs. When he last won New York, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome at the airport in his native country. Outside Brazil, however, he often gets overlooked, which is shocking given his two major marathon wins and sterling half-marathon personal best of 59:33—the fastest ever recorded by a runner from the western hemisphere.

Similar to the great Olympic champion Lasse Viren, who kept relatively quiet during non-Olympic years only to make a lot of noise when it mattered most to him, Gomes is an underappreciated champion who has a history of flying under the radar for most of the year before choosing to come back into orbit on a certain Sunday morning in New York each November.

So does it bother the two-time champion that no one is giving him a shot to win the race again this Sunday? Not one bit.

“It am prepared for anything,” Gomes said on Thursday. “I don’t know if the first part is going to be slower, but we have to be prepared for anything. It’s a very strong group. I have to be aware of all of them.”

While the top contenders in Sunday’s race won’t let the great Gebrselassie get too far out of sight, they better keep a close eye on the guy in the bright yellow singlet from Brazil, too.