The men’s marathon will be a tactical affair, but there will be three questions on fans’ minds going into the event: will the undisputed GOAT, Eliud Kipchoge, be able to successfully defend his Rio gold? Will Galen Rupp, the defending bronze medallist, once again be a threat to the podium? And can Japanese record holder Suguru Osako bring home a medal for the host country?
Kipchoge is the odds-on favourite to win, but there are a few things that should have you concerned about his recent performances. Kipchoge finished eighth in his most recent London Marathon, in 2020, in 2:06.49, and blamed his sub-par performance on a blocked ear. He went on to win the NN Marathon in Hamburg in April, 2021 in 2:04:30, but he had his teammates pacing him for most of the way. There is no way to know if Father Time has caught up to him, or if London was an anomaly. But regardless, even if the 36-year-old fails to win, his world record of 2:01:39 in Berlin, his 1:59:41 time trial and his 10 straight victories over five years show his unprecedented consistency and dominance over the marathon distance.
The Ethiopian marathon regime of Shura Kitata, Lelisa Desisa and Sisay Lemma may be destined to spoil the Kenyan party, since they come into the marathon with the strongest team. And even though the team does not include the great Kenenisa Bekele, who missed the Ethiopian trials race in May, it contains a group of men who are fit and accomplished on the world stage. Kitata is on a roll, coming off a win at the London Marathon in 2020, and is a major threat to win in Sapporo in what will most likely become a tactical race, considering the extreme heat and humidity in Sapporo. Desisa is the reigning world champion from Doha 2019; recently he had a poor showing in Valencia, where he finished 35th, but the two-time Boston Marathon champion has a PB of 2:04:45 and is known to race hard through tough conditions. Lemma, on the other hand, is always the bridesmaid, never the bride. He has never won a major marathon, but has the fastest PB on this Ethiopian team (2:03:36 from Berlin 2019), which makes him the 14th fastest man in marathon history.
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Will ex-Nike Oregon Project member Osako bring home gold for marathon-obsessed Japan? Maybe – Osako destroyed his own national record when he ran a 2:05:29 at the Tokyo Marathon in 2020. It isn’t clear what kind of shape he is in, due to the lack of races prior to the Games, but the home-field advantage will be a factor in his podium potential. He ran 1:01:16 for a half marathon time trial in Oregon, and recently flexed his fitness when he shared to Japanese media that he went 27:56 to 29:04 in back-to-back 10Ks during a workout in May.
The Canadians: Cameron Levins, Trevor Hofbauer and Ben Preisner
The seasoned veteran, the Canadian champion and the rising star – the three Canadian men will all look to make their Olympic debut in the marathon. Hofbauer was the first man named to the Olympic marathon team, when he smashed his personal best by almost seven minutes at the 2019 Toronto Waterfront Marathon. If that’s what he can do over the course of six months, it will be interesting to see what he can do with a year and a half of training under his belt. Preisner, like Wodak, has run only two marathons in his young career – one at the 2020 Marathon Project in Arizona, and the other as a time trial in Ontario; this will be his first marathon on the world stage. Levins, who is a seasoned distance runner internationally, had trouble hitting the standard after breaking the Canadian marathon record in 2018, then travelled to a last-chance marathon qualifier in Austria this spring and ran through monsoon conditions to hit the Olympic standard. If Levins is in form, he could take the lead of this Canadian trio to a top-20 finish in Sapporo.
With all the concern regarding the heat and lack of preparation races for these athletes, and the fact that this Olympic race will most likely be a tactical fight to the line, it’s quite possible the podium finishers will be a complete surprise, especially in the men’s race.
You can follow the race as the action unfolds, here.
Men’s marathon: Sunday, August 8, 7 a.m. Japan time (Saturday, August 7, 6 p.m. E.T)