The favorite: Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia
Personal best: 2:03:03, 2016 Berlin Marathon
All eyes will be on Bekele. He’s the world record holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters on the track. He owns three Olympic gold medals. His transition from the track to the roads has gone incredibly well and it showed when he ran 2:03:03 and became the third-fastest marathoner of all time last fall. Bekele has his own sub-two hour marathon ambitions and has been working with sports scientist Yannis Pitsiladis an independent science-based group to break the barrier. The group is separate from the Nike attempt. Bekele was set to make a world record attempt in January’s Dubai Marathon but dropped out of the race after feeling the effects of a calf injury, sustained while being shoved and trampled at the starting line. He’s reportedly in good shape and setting the world record only requires a seven-second personal best, which seems much more reasonable than carving three full minutes off. If Bekele hopes to break the world record, he is fully capable of it.
Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopia
Personal best: 2:04:52, 2012 Chicago Marathon
Lilesa’s last eight months have been a whirlwind. He won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics while protesting the Ethiopian government in the process. He feared for his life and since he was unable to come home, he came to the United States. He ran several solid half marathons and continued training in Flagstaff, Ariz., before finally being reunited with his family. While Lilesa’s political strife continues, his athleticism remains. He has experience having run the London Marathon before and his personal best puts him as the third-fastest in the field. There should be a little extra motivation that kicks in with a subtle rivalry between Lilesa and Bekele. Lilesa has been very outspoken in his hope to raise awareness for his native Oromo people’s persecution. Bekele is also of Oromo roots but, from my discussions with people within the Ethiopian community, has remained mum on discussing politics because of his stature and businesses in Ethiopia.