RIO DE JANEIRO – After a gold medal victory by Jemima Sumgong in the women’s marathon, the pressure is now on the Kenyan men to follow suit and bring home another gold medal running 26.2 miles.
The Kenyan men look to retake the gold medal that was won by Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda at the 2012 Olympics in London, just four years after the late Sammy Wanjiru ran an Olympic record to give Kenya it’s first Olympic gold medal in the marathon. Eliud Kipchoge heads the charge for Kenya as he enters having won six of his seven career marathons.
The United States fields a team headed by 2012 Olympic 10,000-meter silver medalist Galen Rupp and 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi. No American has won gold in the Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter’s Munich victory in 1972.
Here’s a look at the field for Sunday morning’s race, which will start at 8:30 a.m. ET:
Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya): Personal best - 2:03:01, 2015 Berlin Marathon
Since transitioning to road racing in 2012, Kipchoge has started to build his case as one of the greatest distance runners in history. In Rio, he will look to try and finally add a gold medal to his Olympic collection, which already includes a bronze and silver medal from the 5,000 meters at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, respectively. Kipchoge is favored to win after running a personal best of 2:03:05 to win the London Marathon in April. His personal best is 2:03:01 from his win at last September’s Berlin Marathon, in which he ran with the insoles of his shoes coming out halfway through the race. Since 2014, Kipchoge has recorded two victories at the London Marathon, one at the Chicago marathon and one at the Berlin Marathon. Gold would put him in the conversation of greats like Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, but the world record is still missing from his resume.
Stanley Biwott (Kenya): Personal best - 2:03:51, 2016 London Marathon
Biwott may also be in the medal conversation after lowering his personal best to 2:03:51 to finish second to Kipchoge in London. His record from the last two years also boasts a victory from last year’s New York City Marathon in which he downed a field that included former world record holder Wilson Kipsang. Rio will be the first time in which he dons the Kenyan kit in a global championship setting.
Tesfaye Abera (Ethiopia): Personal best - 2:04:24, 2016 Dubai Marathon
Abera holds the third-fastest time in the field behind Kipchoge and Biwott as he won January’s Dubai Marathon in 2:04:24. There is some pressure on Abera to deliver a strong performance for his country after all three men in the 2012 marathon failed to finish the race. If Abera is not the top Ethiopian, his compatriots should be close as the team includes 2016 Boston Marathon champion Lemi Berhanu (2:04:33) and Feyisa Lelisa (2:04:52).
Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda): Personal best - 2:06:33 – 2015 Tokyo Marathon
Kiprotich has an outside chance at a medal but is definitely not among the favorites. He was a surprise winner at the London Olympics and proved that he can fare well in championship races when he took the 2013 world championship title in Moscow. Kiprotich returns four years later looking to become the first back-to-back Olympic marathon champion since Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany won in 1976 and 1980.
U.S. Medal Hopes
Galen Rupp (Portland, Ore.): Personal best - 2:11:13, 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Rio will be Rupp’s first marathon against international competition after winning the U.S. OLympic Marathon Trials in blistering hot conditions in Los Angeles. He fared well in the heat once and decimated the competition after 20 miles to win in 2:11. The time would not contend for a victory at a major marathon but if the Olympic marathon is a tactical affair, Rupp has proved with his track resume that he can compete against any East Africans. Sunday’s race is a quick turnaround for Rupp as he finished fifth in the 10,000 meters just one week ago. In his training, Rupp has been running about 145-mile weeks in preparation for his second marathon.
Meb Keflezighi (San Diego, Cali.): Personal best - 2:08:37, 2014 Boston Marathon
Since the London Olympics, Keflezighi is the lone non-African to win a world marathon major. His victory at the 2014 Boston Marathon came as a surprise to many as did his fourth place finish at the 2012 Olympics. Even at 41 years old, Keflezighi can not be discounted in a slower and tactical race. He won a silver medal in Athens before continuing on with his remarkable career. A medal in Rio would be just more frosting on the cake.