Marathon weekend is the running world's answer to Super Tuesday
in an election year: a multisite trial for the 2000 Olympics in
which some candidates will fall behind, others will drop out and
survivors will display stamina for the long run. Most elite
runners in the London and Rotterdam marathons next Sunday and
the Boston Marathon on Monday will compete not only to win a
premier race but also to earn spots in Sydney's big show, though
none of the races is an official Olympic trial. In no other
Olympic event are so many berths earned on foreign soil.
Boston has become a familiar Kenyan outpost. "It is the toughest
course [of the three]," says veteran John Kagwe, whose Kenyan
teammates have won the men's division for nine straight years.
London is the only race with a separate start for women, so the
lead woman can neither follow male rabbits nor push the early
pace to hide in a pack of men, as is possible in Rotterdam and
Boston. The Rotterdam course is the flattest, and therefore
fastest, but organizers have come under fire for positioning
pace cars just ahead of the leaders so the cars act as
Nine Kenyan men will run in Boston, and the Kenyan federation
will guarantee Olympic berths to the country's top two male
finishers. Race favorites include Kagwe, a two-time New York
Marathon champ, and four of his countrymen: defending champ
Joseph Chebet, two-time winner Moses Tanui, and Ondoro Osoro and
Elijah Lagat. In London the top two Kenyan women will earn
Olympic berths--almost certainly Tegla Loroupe, whose 2:20:43
last year in Berlin is still the world best, and Joyce
Chepchumba, who has run the fastest time ever in a women's-only
Morocco-born Khalid Khannouchi set a world-best 2:05:42 in
Chicago last year. With his U.S. citizenship still pending,
Khannouchi will reluctantly run in London rather than at the
U.S. trials in Pittsburgh on May 7. Khannouchi will be one of 12
men there who have run under 2:08.
As the defending Olympic champion, South Africa's Josia Thugwane
can earn a trip to Sydney by merely running under the
Olympic-qualifying standard of 2:14 in London. If Gert Thys and
other South Africans run under 2:11, their Olympic places will
be decided by time. If three men don't break 2:11, the South
African federation will hold a postrace selection meeting. Got
Ethiopia's Tesfaye Tola will be the only sub-2:07 marathoner in
Rotterdam, the Olympic selection site for German, French and
Dutch runners. Australia's Nicole Carroll, who will run in
Sydney, is favored in a so-so women's field in Rotterdam.
Don't look too hard for U.S. runners in these races. Marla
Narloch, a 2:37 runner, will be the top-seeded U.S. woman in
Boston. The 150 fastest men's times in the world last year were
under 2:12, so Chris Ashford, the top-seeded U.S. man in Boston,
could surpass his personal best of 2:24.02 and still finish well
back in the pack.
COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/ALLSPORTIf Chebet successfully defends his Boston title, he'll win a spot on the Kenyan Olympic team.