Kenyans go for medal sweep in Olympic marathon
LONDON -- Step by step, he is there for the Kenyans.
When the Olympic men's marathon meanders through London's streets Sunday, Sammy Wanjiru will be on the minds of his countrymen, the overwhelming favorites to win the final event of the games.
Four years ago in Beijing, Wanjiru captured the country's first Olympic marathon gold. He died last year after a fall from a second-floor balcony during a domestic dispute.
"I know we have two things to do here in London. Firstly, we have to retain the title of the late Samuel Wanjiru," Kenyan marathoner Emmanuel Mutai said. "Also, for the glory of yourself. I personally want to make sure that I run good. If I win a gold medal that is an achievement. The most important things is we need to retain that title."
Mutai is joined by Kenyans Wilson Kipsang and Abel Kirui in what could well be a medal sweep, a prospect they are trying to downplay.
"That is very challenging for us," Mutai said. "Everyone was saying, 'You marathoners are going to save us because you are the last to compete.' They are giving us a lot pressure."
The Ethiopians are expected to give the Kenyans a run for gold, but the Kenyan crew is formidable: Kipsang is one of most commanding figures in the event today, winning the London Marathon in April. Mutai perennially finishes near the top and Kirui is a two-time defending world champion.
Wanjiru was dominating the marathon before he died at 24. He won the London Marathon in 2009, along with Chicago in 2009 and 2010. Now, with Wanjiru not forgotten, the Kenyans want another marathon crown.
"Many people will really be expecting a mighty performance from our side," Kipsang said. "So, I think it will be on our side to really deliver and try our best to add more golds for our country."
Unlike past Olympics, no roar from the crowd will bellow when the runners enter the stadium. That's because they finish miles away as they take a scenic tour of London, passing Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London and ending right by Buckingham Palace.
Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie relished the stadium finish, with the capacity crowds so boisterous in London. The British fans cheer wildly for their athletes and everyone else along with it.
"This is the best crowd I've ever seen in my life in athletics," said Gebrselassie, a two-time Olympic 10,000-meter champion and former world-record holder in the marathon. "To finish in a stadium, of course, it's the best."
Led by Meb Keflezighi, a surprise silver medalist in Athens eight years ago, the Americans send a strong lineup into the London streets. Abdi Abdirahman and Ryan Hall have a solid chance to be in the medal mix as well.
Also competing will be an independent runner competing under the banner of the International Olympic Committee. Guor Marial fled a refugee camp in what is now South Sudan during a civil war more than a decade ago. He landed in the United States, seeking asylum.
"I'm representing the whole world, basically," he said at a recent news conference.
He will have "I.O.A." printed on his new gray and black uniform for the race, just as he recently did on his new jacket: Independent Olympic Athlete.
Marial has run only two marathons in his life, but finished both in Olympic times. His second was just two months ago.
As for expectations, well, Marial really doesn't have any.
"I'm going into the race open minded," said the 28-year-old Marial, who now lives in Flagstaff, Ariz. "I will just go there and see what happens."
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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