Thursday, November 4, 2010

New York Marathon: 10 things to anticipate

By Matt Stroup

1) One word, three letters, a legendary resume: Geb. Among the most celebrated distance runners in history, marathon world record-holder Haile Gebrselassie is actually on uncharted turf at age 37, running a marathon in the U.S. for the first time in his career. Adding to his air of unflappability, the pre-race favorite has declined opportunities to screen the NY course in advance.

2) One word, three letters, serious credentials: Meb. Though Gebrselassie is being hailed as the favorite, Meb Keflezighi returns as the reigning NY champion after becoming the first American to win the race in 27 years last November.

3) And speaking of distance running greats... Derartu Tulu has been an icon since Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was in theaters, but the 1992 Olympic 10,000m champion has felt quite at home in New York during her marathon career. At age 38, Tulu is back to defend her NY title from last year.

4) Don't overlook the rookie. Meanwhile, on the women's side, it's a highly-anticipated marathon debut for Shalane Flanagan. The 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist, Flanagan is the top American woman to watch after her U.S. half-marathon title in January.

5) Mara Yamauchi has a compelling passport... and happens to be a top contender. Born in Great Britain, raised in Kenya and based in Japan, Yamauchi finished sixth at the Beijing Games and was runner-up in London last year. As an added bonus, jet lag from a long flight over is probably not something she needs to worry about.

6) Keep your eyes out for a familiar wide receiver sprinting past the field. Amani Toomer will become the first former NFL player to run the New York Marathon since Lynn Swann in 1994, but he'll do so with a unique twist: Starting at the back of the field, Toomer will receive one dollar for charity with every runner he passes. And he probably won't be too difficult to pick out of the crowd: "If you see a tall, skinny dude wearing a red Toomer shirt, it's probably gonna be me," he says.

7) And speaking of non-marathon athletes in the field... Former tennis pro Justin Gimelstob, who has received 29 cortisone injections for back trouble over the years, is also running for charity, but with an additional measure of pride on the line: He'll do just about anything to not lose his high-stakes bet with Andy Roddick. And yes, if he sees his time goal of four hours, 45 minutes approaching as he nears the end, Gimelstob says, "I will 100 percent be diving across that finish line."

8) Don't forget the celebrities. Among the most notable celebrities in last year's field was Goose himself, Anthony Edwards. This year, one of the biggest celebrity names is a man who can saute a goose with the best of them, Bobby Flay.

9) NYC's belated Halloween. It is a known fact of New York living that residents hardly bat an eye when someone is walking down the street in an outrageous outfit, but there's still something spectacular about seeing runners in outrageous costumes running 26.2 miles through the streets of New York.

10) Ladies and gentlemen, Edison Pena. He's listed at No. 10 here, but in many ways we saved one of the most compelling stories on race day for last. When invited by organizers to come watch this year's race in New York, Pena made a move perfectly in line with the energy and spirit of the day: He told them he wanted to run instead.