Favorites to win, there are many
By Mike Tymn
Special to The Advertiser
Although they are professionals and will all be competing for the $15,000 first-place prize money as well as bonus money, the favorites in tomorrow's Honolulu Marathon are not like athletes in many professional sports.
There is no arrogance, no flamboyance, no showmanship, no ostentatious Mu-hammad Ali-like predictions.
"You never know," Eliud Kering of Kenya softly replied when asked about his condition, strategy and competition. Last year's runner-up to Jimmy Muindi, Kering, 27, is considered a "strong favorite" by national running statistician and handicapper Ken Young.
In last year's race, Kering inched closer and closer to Muindi during the final two miles but needed another half-mile or so if he had any chance of catching him. Muindi, a fellow Kenyan, clocked 2 hours, 15 minutes, 19 seconds, while Kering crossed the finish line 17 seconds later.
"I'm in as good condition as last year, but the others are also in good condition," was the extent of Muindi's prediction. The 28-year-old former postal clerk could become the fourth three-time male winner of the Honolulu Marathon, joining Duncan Macdonald (1973, '76, '80), Ibrahim Hussein (1985-87) and Benson Masya (1990, '92, '94).
"Maybe," was the hesitant reply of Russian Lyubov Morgunova, when asked if she is prepared to defend her women's championship. In last year's race, she shattered the women's course and race records with a 2:28:33.
More than 20,000 runners, joggers and walkers are expected to participate in the 26.2-mile challenge, which starts at 5:00 a.m. near Ala Moana Beach Park and ends at Kapi'olani Park after tours of the downtown area and a trip out to Hawai'i Kai. As of yesterday, 22,465 entries had been processed and the final number was expected to approach or exceed 23,000.
However, there are always a few thousand no-shows, and therefore the number of actual starters will likely be closer to 20,000.
Olympic winner returns
The numbers are surprisingly high considering the drop in tourism after the Sept. 11 attacks. Last year, visitors from Japan accounted for 54 percent of the 26,465 entries. At yesterday's count, there were 8,702 entries from Japan, 38.7 percent of the field. However, entries from the Mainland (6,563) are up from last year by some 3,000. Hawai'i participation (6,451) is roughly the same as last year.
After Japan, the foreign countries with the most participation are Canada (262) and Germany (223).
South Africa has only one entry, but he could very well be the winner. He is 30-year-old Josia Thugwane, who won the 1995 Honolulu Marathon and then went on to win the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic marathon in Atlanta.
"He's up for this race," said Derek Froude, Thugwane's agent. "He had quite a few injuries after winning the Olympic marathon, but he has been injury-free for the past 12 months. He had a good race in Korea (2:11:52, 2nd place in the Dong-A Marathon) earlier in the year and he needs a good run to a great run here (to fully re-establish himself)."
Thugwane and Muindi are not the only former Honolulu Marathon winners entered. Mbarak Hussein, the 1998 winner and younger brother of Ibrahim Hussein, is expected to be in contention. He was a close third last year, just two seconds behind Kering as well as third in 1999.
"It should be interesting," said Honolulu Marathon president Jim Baharal. "Thungwane looks like he is ready to go. A little wind and warm weather could be to his advantage." Barahal believes that Shinji Kawashima of Japan could be a surprise winner. Kawashima, 35, finished 21st in the Sydney Olympics, but has a 2:10:07 personal best.
First-timers among favorites
Nobody is counting out Simon Chemoiywo, another Kenyan, who is running here for the first time. "I like it here and feel I am ready for a good race," said Chemoiywo, 33, who is on leave from the Kenyan Air Force.
Chemoiywo turned in his marathon best of 2:10:35 in the 2000 Prague Marathon.
Assuming the weather conditions are what he has experienced since being in Hawai'i, he thinks he is capable of at least a 2:14 tomorrow.
The Honolulu Marathon men's record is 2:11:43 by Ibrahim Hussein, set in 1986 under unusually cool conditions. There is a $10,000 bonus for a race record. Second place will be rewarded with $8,000, while third place receives $5,000, fourth $3,000 and fifth $1,500. The cash prizes are the same for women. In addition, there are numerous time incentives. A sub-2:06:50 for men or a sub-2:21:06 for women would result in a bonus of $50,000. However, such times are highly improbable given the less than ideal running weather in Hawai'i. Ideal running conditions are in the 45 to 55 degrees range and with no hindering winds.
The women's race should be between three Russians Morgunova, 30, Svetlana Zakharova, 31, and Elana Paramonova, 38. With a 2:28:51, Zakharova, the 1997 Honolulu Marathon winner, also broke the women's race record last year while finishing second to Morgunova. Paramonova, who recorded a 2:30:03 in the recent New York City Marathon, will be running here for the first time.
"The training has gone very well for all of them," said Konstantin Selinevick, the agent for the three Russians. "If the weather will cooperate, there will be some fast times."
Selinevick said he did not expect the three Russian women to work together in the race. "They are all individual athletes and will be running their own races."
Women's title up for grabs
Young, the national handicapper, rates Zakharova as the favorite over the defending champion, pointing out that she has been having her best year, including a 2:25:13 third-place in this year's New York City Marathon.
Italian Franca Fiacconi, 36, last year's third-place finisher, also under the old record with a 2:30:19, cannot be counted out.
The winner is expected to finish at approximately 7:15, but participants are expected to be on the course for five or six hours after that.
According to the USA Track & Field information center, the Honolulu Marathon has a median finishing time of 5:26:00 for men and 6:24:30 for women. This compares with a 3:30:12 for men and a 3:55:25 for women in the Boston Marathon.