When the cannon goes off on Sunday morning to start the 45th annual New York City Marathon, here’s who to look for up front among a very competitive men’s field:
Wilson Kipsang, Kenya (Personal best: 2:03:23, Berlin Marathon 2013)
Kipsang, 33, may no longer be the world’s best marathoner, as compatriot Eliud Kipchoge settled the score between them at the London Marathon in April and then reaffirmed his dominance with a personal best victory at the Berlin Marathon last month. But Kipsang is still very good. The former world record holder showed he could win a tactical race with his victory in New York last year and he is looking to become the sixth repeat champion in race history. The only blemish on his record in 2015 is the fact that he pulled out of the world championship marathon. He rebounded with a 46:42 performance for seventh place at the Dam tot Damloop 10-mile race in the Netherlands. One race is still better than no race in comparison to last year’s build-up to New York. Kipsang will show up to the starting line healthy, and he will be the best in the field.
Lelisa Desisa, Ethiopia (2:04:45, Dubai Marathon 2013)
The 25-year-old Desisa would be in the conversation for that second-best marathoner-of-2015 spot behind Kipchoge if he can deliver a victory in New York. In last year’s race, a nudge with Kipsang in the final mile triggered a kick from the Kenyan that Desisa could not cover and he crossed the finish line in second place. Desisa went on to win April’s Boston Marathon and placed seventh at the world championships in Beijing.
New York will be his fourth marathon of the year, and Desisa has not contested any race shorter than 26.2 miles in 2015. He opened the year with a 2:05:52 second-place finish in Dubai before clocking a 2:09:17 in his Boston victory. The humid conditions of China were the reason behind his 2:14:54 performance in August. Any race between 2:07 to 2:11 in New York would be in Desisa’s wheelhouse.
The Dark Horse
Geoffrey Kamworor, Kenya (2:06:12, Berlin Marathon 2012)
Just 22, Kamworor is coming off a world championship silver medal performance on the track at 10,000-meters but has already proved to be strong on the roads. This will be his New York City Marathon debut, but he has two World Marathon Major podium finishes on his résumé since his debut in 2012. Kamworor’s fastest marathon is 2:06:12. His slowest is 2:09:12, which could win a race without pacers like New York.
Meb Keflezighi, U.S.A. (2:08:37, Boston Marathon 2014)
With the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials just a few months away, it would be tough to see Keflezighi straining himself in the final miles for the victory and risking injury. Then again, Keflezighi thrives when he is doubted the most. In the lead-up to New York, the 40-year-old has put in a 27-mile and a 23-mile long run with some weeks being capped at 130 miles. A win in Los Angeles come February is much more important than a win on Sunday, but someone like Keflezighi approaches both races with the same level of valor. New York will be a long training run that needs a little more recovery than others as Keflezighi looks to making his third U.S. Olympic team.
Keflezighi will most likely get the U.S. Masters record for the 40-to-44-year-old age group, which currently stands at 2:13:52, run by Mbarak Hussein in 2006.
Nick Arciniaga, U.S.A. (2:11:30, Houston Marathon 2011)
The Flagstaff-native’s name comes to mind ahead of New York because of a breakout performance by Luke Puskedra at last month’s Chicago Marathon. Arciniaga, 32, was the third American across the finish line last year behind Keflezighi and Ryan Vail. After coming close to a personal best at the 2014 Boston Marathon, Arciniaga remains in the conversation for that third U.S. Olympic spot.
Prediction: Kipsang becomes the first man to win New York City Marathon titles in back-to-back years since John Kagwe in 1997 and 1998.