The Kenyans get the ink; but the Colombians have come to run

Kenyan Lucia Subano is a contender in the women's elite field  Credit: Clive Brunskill/Allsport
NASHVILLE It may have been an omen or just pure happenstance, but the elite Kenyan male runners were late for the inaugural Country Music Marathons press conference Thursday.

By the time the Kenyans had arrived, a group of Colombian male runners led by Carlos Grisales had already established position at the Jefferson Victory Room at the Doubletree Hotel.

Of course the Colombians would like to establish position on the downtown Nashville course on Saturday, and have their own victory-room celebration at the Country Music Marathon, which kicks off at 7 a.m. CT.

Philip Chirchir, 31, of Kenya is the pre-race favorite in the mens field, based on his marathon PR of 2:08:51.

However, Grisales, a 33-year-old marathon veteran, who was 11th in the Olympic Marathon in Atlanta in 1996, and a group of younger Colombian runners are expected to challenge Chirchir and the other Kenyans for the top spot.

The Colombians also have an added incentive in that the Country Music Marathon is serving as their Olympic Trial, with the top three Colombian finishers expected to get berths in Sydney.

While Chirchir was among the missing at yesterdays press conference, womens favorite Nadja Wijenberg of the Netherlands, via Russia, was center stage with her husband Ger.

In introducing Wijenberg, Tim Murphy, president of Elite Racing, Inc. and the event's producer, noted that Wijenberg would be a natural choice to win the first Country Music Marathon. In 1998, she won the first Suzuki Rock n Roll Marathon in San Diego.

Wijenberg was born in Russia, but has since gained Dutch citizenship and is a strong candidate for that countrys Olympic team.

Asked about the penchant for doing well in musical marathons, Wijenberg said: I hear the music, but I really dont listen to it. Im only thinking about the marathon.

Wijenberg says she has some concerns about running so early in the morning.

I (dont) like early morning, Wijenberg said. I (prefer the) afternoon. Im more used to running marathons in the afternoon. I do my speed work in the afternoon. In Holland, competitions (are held in the) afternoon. Here it is a little bit difficult.

Wijenbergs strongest competition is expected to come from Kenyas Lucia Subano, the 2000 Armed Forces Cross Country champion, Hungarys Judit Nagy, who boasts a PR of 2:27:58, and Russias Elvira Kolpakova.

The Colombian men should be a major factor tomorrow, and if you dont believe it, listen to Luis Felipe Posso.

Posso, a Colombian native and American citizen, is an agent for the Colombian runners here and has a terrific track record when it comes to marathoning.

Two of Possos clients, Hwang Young-Cho of South Korea and Josia Thugwane of South Africa, were the respective winners of the last two Olympic Marathons in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.

Weve always had top marathon runners in Colombia, Posso said. Carlos (Grisales) was 11th in the Olympics in Atlanta and Iglandini Gonzalez was 20th. In city marathons, (Colombian runners won) the Berlin Marathon and Carlos was fifth in Boston a few years back. So we have a good history of long-distance runners."

In previous Olympic years, the Colombians would all race in different events and the three fastest times would go to the Olympics.

This year we felt we had more balance as a group, Posso said. We have five good runners and we wanted to have them come here and see who are the top three in the same race. So there is a competition inside the competition.

Right now Im in good shape psychologically to come here and compete against the other Colombian runners for this race and for the Olympic Games, Grisales said.

Grisales feels his experience will help on Saturday.

For me it is an advantage to have more experience than the others, Grisales said. For us, the Colombians, there is an advantage on this course because we train in similar terrains in Colombia hilly courses. For us this is the type of course that we perform the best on.

Asked about the competition with the Kenyans, Grisales said, They are competitive, but we dont see them as equal to us in this race.

We came here to run the marathon and do a job and while the music may be there we are focused on the marathon," he said. "We are like race horses with blinders.

Miguel Malliqui, the national record holder from Peru will be a threat in the mens division along with Kenyans John Kiprono, Elias Chelanga and Geoffrey Kinyua.

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