Friday, April 11, 2014

Handicapping the 2014 London Marathon

As I often do, I'd like to use the odds for Sunday's London Marathon as a starting point for predicting the winner. At roughly 2:1 is Wilson Kipsang, who is on a three-marathon hot streak. He ran 2:03:42 at Frankfurt in the fall of 2012, then won London last year in 2:04:44 before running a world record of 2:03:23 last fall in Berlin. He has remarkably better odds than Geoffrey Mutai (about 6:1), who seems to have slightly worse odds than Mo Farah, even though Farah (around 5:1) has never run a marathon and Mutai has run 2:05:10 or faster in five of his last six marathons, with the one exception being last year's New York Marathon, which he won in 2:08.

You would have to expect this race to be a duel between Kipsang and Mutai as the favourites, with Ethiopians Tsegaye Kebede and Tsegaye Mekonnen looming just behind, along with Emmanuel Mutai, who ran 2:03:52 last fall in finishing second at Chicago and holds the course record here. Emmanuel Mutai hasn't won a marathon in a couple of years, and Mekonnen ran 2:04 in his debut, but it was just two months ago.

I'm a huge fan of Kebede as quite possibly the most consistent marathoner in the history of the sport, having finished in the top three of 13 marathons in a row dating back to 2008. He won here last year after a brutally fast early pace that left him a minute back at around 35k. If the pace is torrid again, which it probably will be, as the men will likely go out in 61:45, Kebede's pedigree as the best racer if not necessarily the fastest runner will serve him well.

I can't imagine Mo Farah being much of a factor besides finishing in the top 5 in around 2:05-2:06. One reason to be optimistic of Farah's chances for the win are that he's going to go out behind the lead pack in 62:15, which would leave him poised to make a late run similar to Kebede's last year, though this strategy will likely only improve his placing since the winner will likely be whoever slows down least in the second half.

The women's race is interesting because it marks Tirunesh Dibaba's marathon debut. Dibaba has a better distance-running pedigree than Mo Farah, who may well turn out to be more of a middle-distance runner than a marathoner, but she faces tremendous competition in Priscah Jeptoo and Tiki Gelana, among others. Dibaba, however, won gold on the track last summer, looking as good as she ever did, and has a better chance of winning than Mo Farah.

If I had to bet money on someone, I would bet on Dibaba (about 4:1) and Emmanuel Mutai (around 7:1 to 10:1) since I think they're the most undervalued, but the best bet in any marathon is to bet on the field. If I had to pick a winner, I would pick Geoffrey Mutai for his slightly longer streak of consistently winning, although consistently winning for a marathoner implies that you've already peaked and will slowly start to fade. While I wish I knew enough about women's running to pick a winner, I don't. I'll just pick Dibaba to lose.

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