Goumri eyes breakthrough at NYC Marathon

November 1, 2008 11:03:55 AM PDT
Abderrahim Goumri bumped into Martin Lel in their hotel lobby and heard a prediction. Lel told him he should win Sunday's New York City Marathon. The logic certainly made sense.

Three times in the last 19 months, Goumri has run well enough to win at a major marathon only to lose to Lel. Goumri assumed they were headed to another showdown in New York until Lel broke his left foot in the Lisbon Half-Marathon in September.

Goumri conceded he had mixed feelings about Lel's absence, which seemingly leaves him the favorite in a wide-open field. He said he told Lel, "I am so strong, I want you this year, too."

"I am sad because it's an exciting race," he explained.

"Having someone strong at the finish, it's so exciting for me, the marathon, to test yourself."

But, he added, "when someone is not running you know you have like some percentage to win."

The 32-year-old Moroccan lost to Lel by just three seconds at the 2007 London Marathon in Goumri's major marathon debut. In New York last year, it was nearly as close: The Kenyan beat him by 12 seconds.

In London again in April, Lel won a race run at a sizzling pace; Goumri came in third, 15 seconds back.

Goumri's tough luck with marathons goes back to the first one he ever won. In 1997 in Norway, if he finished in less than 2 hours, 30 minutes, he'd earn money. He still remembers his time: 2:30:54.

Off by less than a minute, he left empty-handed.

But everything now seems to be coming together for Goumri.

Although he finished 20th at the Beijing Olympics, bothered by the heat and stomach problems, he knows heat won't be a problem this weekend.

His training this fall was more extensive than last year because the fasting of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended in early October instead of the middle of the month.

His competition Sunday will include three former champs: Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil (2006), Paul Tergat of Kenya (2005) and Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa (2004).

On the women's side, Catherine Ndereba of Kenya certainly isn't lacking in major marathon titles - she's won eight. But one of the few honors that has eluded her is a victory in New York.

"It means a lot," she said. "I don't even have words to explain. I've won all the other races in the United States, but it is only in New York I have not been able to win. But hopefully one day I will be able to."

World record holder Paula Radcliffe leads a strong women's field.

Ndereba and last year's runner-up, Gete Wami of Ethiopia, each has a chance to clinch the $500,000 World Marathon Majors title.

Wami would win for the second straight year if she finishes in the top two. Ndereba would earn the title if she wins the race and Wami doesn't come in second.

Irina Mikitenko of Germany, who is not running in New York, is tied with Wami. If neither Wami nor Ndereba clinches the title, the tiebreaker would be a vote by World Marathon Majors race directors.

Lel already has clinched the men's title.