November 14, 2009 by USA Post
The 32nd annual SunTrust Richmond Marathon seems likely to begin in chilly, damp conditions and end in the heat of a stirring one-on-one duel.
The two most recent winners, defending champion Jynocel Basweti and Mohamed Awol, the top finisher in 2007, appear to be the most capable runners by far in today’s 26.2-mile race through Richmond’s slick streets and still-soggy neighborhoods.
Basweti, a 22-year old Kenyan, won last year in 2:22:22. Awol, a 31-year-old Ethiopian, delivered a winning time of 2:20:20.
Thom Suddeth, the event’s coordinator of elite athletes, said a Basweti-Awol shootout, while perhaps not inevitable, is eminently plausible.
Should such a showdown occur, Suddeth said, “It would be hard not to pick Basweti” to become the marathon’s first back-to-back winner since Elly Rono won three in a row from 2002-04.
Not only is the Kenyan nine years younger than his adversary, “he’s an unbelievable tactician,” Suddeth said. “And quite frankly, I think he’s maybe in a little better shape than he was last year.”
The women’s marathon, too, seems likely to produce a compelling battle. Two runners, 39-year-old Ukrainian Ilona Baranova; and 24-year-old Divina Jepkogei of Kenya, possess particularly impressive résumés.
Jepkogei won the Mississippi Blues Marathon earlier this year in 2:46, a women’s record for that event. Baranova, Suddeth said, “is capable of running 2:40 and might dip lower depending upon the weather.”
Ah, yes. The weather. The storm formerly known as Hurricane Ida has wrapped Richmond in a cold, wet funk for much of the past week. This morning’s forecast is better — temperature around 50 with only a 20 percent chance of precipitation.
“As a runner, obviously, you’d rather be chilled than hot,” Suddeth said. But if today’s forecast is inaccurate, he said — if the cold rain lingers — the more than 5,100 runners in the marathon “might have some temperature-management and body-management issues to deal with.”
Moreover, he said, the chance exists that low-lying portions of the course specifically, miles 9-14 on the south side of the James River — could experience problems with water accumulation.
Today’s most commanding performance might come in the women’s portion of the McDonald’s Half Marathon. There, 30-year-old Canadian Tara Quinn-Smith, whose credentials include a 1:12:08 half-marathon, a Canadian record, seems capable of threatening, if not breaking, the Richmond record for the women’s 13.1-mile race (1:18:34).
Quinn-Smith’s bid could be harmed by the absence due to injury of Maria-Elena Calle, a former six-time All-American at VCU. The competition between the two would have been intense. Calle, Suddeth said, was “in the best shape of her life” before being shelved by a hip problem. “She could have given [Quinn-Smith] a run for her money.”
Smith’s family could collect more than one first-place paycheck today. Andrew Smith, Tara’s husband, has run a half-marathon in 1:04 and could challenge Kenyan Jared Abuya for the McDonald’s men’s title. Abuya’s best time: 1:02.59.
The course record for the women’s portion of the HCA Virginia 8K also appears to be in jeopardy. Teyba Naser, an elfin 23-year-old from Ethiopia, has completed an 8K in 25:00. The current Richmond record: 25:24.
Auburn University senior Elkanah Kibet, a 23-year-old Kenyan, looks dangerous in the men’s 8K. He was a cross country All-American as a junior.
First-place finishers in the men’s and women’s marathon will collect $2,500. Half marathon and 8K winners will receive $1,000.
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