Teamwork is the key, say Kenyan stars
Despite their 36-hour trip from Nairobi to London, Kenya's triumvirate of marathon stars were predicting a seventh successive men's title in the Virgin London Marathon when they met the world's press this morning, little more than 12 hours after they arrived in the British capital.
Olympic champion Sammy Wanjiru, world champion Abel Kirui and Duncan Kibet, the second fastest man ever to run 26.2 miles, may be fierce rivals when it gets to the last few kilometres of the race in two days' time but they were united in one thing today - teamwork will be the key to success on Sunday.
"We will work together on Sunday until at least 35km and together we will try and shape the race," said Kibet, who won the Rotterdam Marathon last year in 2:04:27, second only to Haile Gebrselassie's 2:03:59 world record on the world all-time list.
"Running 42km is a long journey; it's almost as long as the flight we took to get here," added Kirui, who took the world title in Berlin last summer.
"You cannot achieve things in this race alone. Maybe after 35km we will go it alone but at the end, if one of us wins, we will all celebrate because it will be an achievement for all of us."
"Yes, teamwork is the key," agreed Wanjiru, although the 23-year-old left us in no doubt he is determined to defend his title.
Wanjiru set the course record last year when he ran 2:05:10 and the World Marathon Majors champion believes he's in shape to run faster this year, despite his tiring journey and a back injury that hampered his training regime for a month in January.
"There are some very strong guys here and we will push each other," he said. "I think 2:04 is possible.
"I had an injury for a month in January and, of course, it was hard for us to get here, but training has been very good and now I feel ready."
Not that Wanjiru is disregarding his opponents. Indeed, he sees Tsegaye Kebede as the main threat to Kenyan dominance. The Ethiopian - current world and Olympic bronze medallist - finished second last year after a thrilling battle with Wanjiru that lasted until the final mile.
"I think Kebede is very strong," said Wanjiru. "He is experienced on this course now and, of course, he was second to me last year."
Despite his victory last year, Wanjiru was actually disappointed at the end not to break Gebrselassie's world mark having raced at record schedule until 30km. This time, however, he is making no such predictions.
"I wouldn't talk about the world record here," he said. "The course is difficult with slopes and corners. But if the weather is good I think run faster than last year.
"Sunday will be a wonderful race. It will be very difficult for me because everyone is so good. Abel is the world champion now so everyone wants to see the world and Olympic champions fight each other."
Kirui broke the world championships record in Berlin last year and said afterwards that 2:03:30 is possible, "maybe next year". With temperatures predicted to rise to 21 degrees, and south westerly winds, it's unlikely to happen here, although Kirui believes anything is possible.
"We need to thank the London Marathon organisers for the great concern they showed to get us here," he said, referring to the two chartered planes laid on to get many of Africa's finest runners to the British capital, by way of Djibouti, Eritrea, Turkey, Tel Aviv and Madrid.
"But I have the feeling that despite all the troubles we've had we will be at our best and run as expected on Sunday. I know in my heart that it's a matter of how prepared we are, and we are ready."
Kibet's form will be closely monitored. After posting such a fast time in Rotterdam last year, he lined up against Gebrselassie at the Berlin Marathon in September, a duel between the two quickest marathoners in history. But Kibet dropped out at 30km with what he described today as a "minor injury problem".
More recently he set a half marathon best (60:21 in Lisbon) and says he's now back "in shape to do well" here. "What happened in Berlin was due to problems," he said. "But I'm in good form now. Training back home has gone very well.
"We left home on Wednesday at 3am, so of course we didn't sleep well, and it was a long journey with five stops - a bit of a sightseeing trip. It was tiring. But I think on Sunday we will do what we have to do."