Carlo Jonkerman, KweséESPN 351d

Who, if anybody, can stop the Keitany four-peat?


The main talking point of the women's race at Sunday's New York City Marathon is whether three-time defending champion Mary Keitany can finally be beaten on the streets of 'The Big Apple'... and by who.

At 35 years old Keitany is theoretically getting on, but her performance in winning the London Marathon back in April (also for a third time) would have proven that she's still in peak condition. The Kenyan's winning time of 2:17:01 was not only her lifetime best but the second-fastest ever run. Furthermore, it means that she has run two minutes better than any of her rivals on Sunday - 12 of them African -- have ever mustered.

Those with the closest personal bests to Keitany include her compatriot Edna Kiplagat (2:19:50), and the Ethiopian pair of Mare Dibaba (2:19:52) and Buzunesh Deba (2:19:59). As such they are the standout candidates to end her winning run.

Kiplagat has 'previous' in this regard having beaten then-novice Keitany (and the veteran Shalane Flanagan) to the tape back in 2010, before subsequently claiming the honours in London (2014) and earlier this year in Boston. An interesting subplot to the 37-year-old's marathon career is that in six of the previous seven years she has run her season's best time in the first quarter... can she reverse that for a famous win?

Deba, for her part, has some unfinished business in New York. The 30-year-old finished second in 2011 and 2013 (2012 was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy) but her time, 2:30:58, in finishing fourth this year in Boston -- which she won in 2014 -- suggests she'll have to attempt a tactical race if she is to taste victory again.

At 28 Dibaba is the youngster among the favourites, but her 2014 Chicago win showed she has the prowess to win big. That said, her season's bests have tailed off in the last two years.

An intriguing sub-plot to Sunday's race as usual will be how the dynamics play out between the nine Ethiopians and three Kenyans in the field.

Keitany and Kiplagat will only have marathon novice Betsy Saina for help if tactics come into it because of the predicted iffy weather but in the Ethiopian camp Mamitu Daska (34) and 2015 London champion Tigist Tufa (30) will arguably have their sights set on furthering their own aims -- probably negating the numerical advantage they have.

Uganda's Diane Nukuri, meanwhile, will be a lone wolf and might be looking to align with non-African like the aforementioned Flanagan, this year's Hamburg Marathon winner Jessica Augusto (also USA) and the grand dame of the field, 42-year-old Christelle Daunay of France.

Ultimately, that quartet are the longest of long shots. You'd have to go back to 2011 for the last non-African women's major marathon winner (Japan's Noriko Higuchi before the Tokyo Marathon joined the 'big league'), and the UK's Paula Radcliffe in 2008 for the last non-Kenyan or -Ethiopian winner in New York.

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