‘Winning London is my motivation,’ says Geoffrey Mutai
Boston champion, Berlin champion, New York twice, the World Marathon Majors series, once the fastest man in history – Geoffrey Mutai has acquired almost every honour available to a top marathon runner… bar one.
After years of virtually unmatched success on the global marathon circuit, winning the Virgin Money London Marathon has become a driving motivation for the 33-year-old Kenyan who lines up in a men’s field of unprecedented quality for the 35th edition of the race this Sunday.
Mutai attracted global headlines when he clocked a breathtaking 2:03:02 to win the Boston Marathon four years ago – then the fastest ever seen, although never a record because of the downhill profile of the Boston course. It still stands as the second quickest marathon in history.
He went on to win the New York City Marathon twice, in 2011 and 2013, take the Berlin title in 2012 in his fastest ‘legitimate’ time of 2:04:15, and was crowned the World Marathon Majors Series VI champion for 2011/12. He is the Boston and New York course record holder, and once held an unofficial ‘world best’ for the lowest two-race total in a single year.
But Mutai’s two previous appearances in London have been frustrating experiences, as he dropped out at 30km with a hamstring problem in 2013, and finished in sixth place 12 months ago, again some way short of his best.
But those two rare ‘failures’ ignited in him a burning ambition to fill the one glaring gap on his marathon CV.
“I have won in Boston, Berlin and New York, but the win I still want is this one,” said Mutai today, one of half a dozen Kenyans who dominate the top of the elite men’s entry list for this year’s race.
“The fact that I have not done well here before is my main motivation now. It is what keeps me running and makes me want to come back.
“The London Marathon is more important to me now than the Olympics because it is more challenging,” added Mutai, who has never represented his country at a World Championships or Olympic Games.
“In this race there are six or seven of us from our country, which is not easy, and we don’t get the chance to race each other like this anywhere else. It is a special opportunity.
“If I don’t win this year I will come back again and again until I do, because this title is not something you can get easily. I will fight until my day comes.”
Whether ‘his day’ comes this Sunday is almost impossible to predict for Mutai faces an awesome array of opponents described by one former athlete today as ‘marathon royalty’.
They include his good friend, the course record holder and defending champion, Wilson Kipsang, and the man who took Kipsang’s world record in Berlin last year, Dennis Kimetto, plus the 2011 London champion Emmanuel Mutai, last year’s runner-up Stanley Biwott, and the 2014 Rotterdam and Chicago Marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge.
Taken together they make up a formidable field that includes the three quickest men in history, five of the world’s all-time top 10 and eight men in total who have run sub-2:05.
But Mutai is quietly confident, despite withdrawing from the Tokyo Marathon in February with an injury picked up when placing sixth at the New York City Marathon last November.
“I’m now back from injury and fully focused,” he said. “I am fit again and ready for this race.
“In the past couple of years I haven’t had a chance to train well. I’ve been recovering from injury and had to catch up, but the point I’ve reached now I’m confident I can produce a good performance this time.”
With Kipsang and Kimetto cited as favourites, Mutai is regarded as one of the four main challengers to the big two. Yet he is not the only one who perhaps has something to prove on Sunday.
Stanley Biwott became the surprise package of the 2013 elite field when he led the race with five miles to go, but then ‘blew up’ in the closing stages to place eighth. He partially corrected his “mistake” at the 2013 race 12 months ago when he all-but matched Kipsang over the full 26.2 miles, until the ‘master craftsman’ pulled to away to regain the crown.
Biwott is back in 2015 hoping to make it third time lucky and claiming to be in his “best shape ever”.
“I think I will run well on Sunday,” said Biwott. “I trained well this year and have learned from my mistakes. I am ready to run well again.
“Two years ago I trained well but didn’t plan my splits. Now I’ve learned and I will be ready to sprint properly at the end.”
Like his namesake, Emmanuel Mutai has also overcome minor injury problems to be ready for Sunday. With seven London Marathon appearances behind him, the former world silver medallist is the most experienced man in the line-up, and held the course record for three years until Kipsang eclipsed it by 11 seconds last year.
Now 30, he is still improving. He recorded the second quickest time in history when he chased Kimetto home in Berlin last September in 2:03:13. Having run 2:03:52 to finish second in Chicago the year before, he is one of only three to have run sub-2:04 on two occasions.
With the pacemakers primed to clip through half way in 61:45, Mutai may need another fast time to make the podium again.
“I had back problems in February but now everything is OK, so I’m ready for the race,” he said. “Sunday will be very tough because the field is so strong but the way I’ve prepared I think I can handle that pace.
“What will determine things is what happens after 30km. I’ll be comfortable at half way, but I need to be ready to race at 30km.
“I always like to come back to London and see if I can do well again. I hope to improve my performance but mainly I want to win.”
In contrast, Emmanuel’s training partner Eliud Kipchoge is a London newcomer who’s earned his place on the Start Line thanks to three prestigious marathon victories in the last two years, including the Chicago Marathon last October, and a personal best of 2:04:05.
The former track runner made a successful move up to the roads after a 10-year track career that included global success in 2003 when he won the world 5000m title ahead of Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj at the tender age of 19.
“After 10 years it was difficult to keep running on the track so I needed to make the transition to marathon running,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying training and racing longer distances and I’m more happy with the marathon than I was on the track.
“I hope I will enjoy it on Sunday. It will be a new experience for me. With so many of us all here together I am sure a fast time will come.”
All four will have to contend with Kipsang and Kimetto, of course, but for Geoffrey Mutai the chance to race his friend and training partner is just another motivation as he strives to fulfil his remaining ambition of becoming a London Marathon champion.
“Wilson called me up for advice before he moved up to the marathon,” said Mutai. “We used to challenge each other at 10K and half marathon, and he never beat me.
“But when he came to the marathon, he beat me. It’s another big motivation to do well in London. You can’t talk about times in a race like this. Anything can happen on Sunday, it could be fast or slow. But I am prepared.”