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Speed the buzz word at New York City Marathon

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Speed is the buzz word at this year’s New York City Marathon, as runners gear up to keep pace with the fast times registered around the world.

Kenya’s Patrick Makau lowered the world best marathon time to two hours three minutes 38 seconds in September’s Berlin Marathon. In April, Emmanuel Mutai won in London in course record time (2:04:38) and fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai (no relation) set a new Boston Marathon standard (2:03:02).

Geoffrey Mutai’s sizzling time, nearly a full minute faster than the world best at the time, was not recognized as the world best given the layout of the Boston race and tailwinds that favoured the runners.

Makau is not in the New York field but the two Mutais are. That does not faze defending champion Gebre Gebremariam, but the course record (2:07:43) set by his fellow Ethiopian Tesfaye Jifar through the five boroughs in 2001 could be in jeopardy.

Gebremariam, who won last year’s race in 2:08:14 in his first stab at the distance, expects a faster time and is confident his finishing kick will prevail in the final Central Park miles of the hilly race.

“I know them very well. I’m not worried,” Gebremariam told reporters on Friday about going against the Kenyan duo. “I’m ready to run a little faster. I hope the pace is faster than last year. When I reach Central Park I know how to win.”

And if the trio are running shoulder to shoulder to shoulder? “I’m ready,” said Gebremariam, 27, the 2009 IAAF world cross country champion, who finished third in the Boston Marathon with a personal best time of 2:04:53.

Geoffrey Mutai, 30, was not be credited with the world’s fastest marathon but the fact remains that he covered the 26.2 mile distance faster than any runner ever has on foot.

“Even if it is not recognized, it gives me another challenge, to run faster in other races,” Mutai said. “When you are faster, you must maintain yourself at that level. I see that as another challenge.”

Emmanuel Mutai, 27, tired at the end of last year’s New York race and finished second. “This year I will try to improve my time and maybe my position. I do not say I’m satisfied.”

American Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist, said fast times are a natural progression.

“You have people you train against or you compete against, and he does it or she does it, and it’s like .. if he can do it, I can do it.”

The Kenyans are under extra pressure to excel given a tight squeeze to make their Olympic marathon team. Kenya are allowed three places for London 2012, but two berths have already been reserved for Makau and twice world champion Abel Kirui.

“There is a chance now in New York,” Geoffrey Mutai said about his Olympic prospects. “If I get this chance, maybe after Sunday I’ll know.”

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