JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jimmy Muindi broke the tape at the Honolulu Marathon on Sunday for a record fifth time. He was unchallenged for much of the race, winning by 3:06.
Wanted: Muindi rival
The Kenyan is a worthy and humble five-time champion, but a challenger would add spice
THERE are marathoners who could've given Jimmy Muindi a run for his $15,000 first-place prize money Sunday.
Now it is Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal's job to find some for next year.
Muindi, 32, has won three consecutive Honolulu Marathons and an unprecedented five total. He dominated the men's race Sunday, winning in 2 hours, 12 minutes on a slow day on a slow course. His closest competitor, 40-year-old Mbarak Hussein, finished 3 minutes, 6 seconds later. That qualifies as a rout.
EXPANDING THE GAP
Except for 2004 when he set a course record, Jimmy Muindi’s margin of victory at the Honolulu Marathon has gotten bigger each time.
||3 min., 6 sec.
||2 min., 2 sec.
On another day, perhaps Joseph Riri or one of the other invited elites would have taken off with Muindi when he jetted away from them at the 11th mile. Hussein, himself a three-time winner, probably won't be able to challenge Muindi again because of their age difference.
"I think we're going to have to up the ante to bring in bigger guns, someone to try to beat Jimmy," Barahal said. "We thought we had some guys who would challenge him, but it didn't pan out."
Appearance fees for elite runners are among the biggest expenses in putting on a marathon. It's a balancing act for Barahal, who wants to maintain Honolulu's reputation as a people's event, which is also expensive. But he also wishes to sustain its integrity as a competitive race, and that costs money.
Barahal said he pays defending champions like Muindi "low to mid five figures" in appearance fees. That's not very high for a marathoner with Muindi's credentials.
"The only reason he's running here right now is loyalty, and we try to take care of him," Barahal said. "He's become an identifiable star here in Honolulu. Jimmy's also a nice guy and great role model."
But Barahal added, "It's better to have someone different win every year and we haven't handed it to him."
A dream challenger to Muindi's dominance would be American Meb Keflezighi, silver medalist from the 2004 Athens Games.
"I'm aware that a runner like Meb, with his ability and marketability, can command low to mid six figures (for an appearance)," Barahal said. "Meb's out of our league money-wise ... (but) another American (born) who would finish within five minutes of Jimmy doesn't exist. That's every marathoner director's dream. We're all looking for the next American star."
COURTESY OF HONOLULU MARATHON
Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal will try to find more competition for Jimmy Muindi for next year's race.
Although it probably won't be an American, Barahal said he and race director Jon Cross will find suitable challengers for Muindi.
"We'll pull it off. We have to use our contacts and coaches and agents and make it clear that we know we have to pay more," he said.
"From my point of view, first it's an athletic competition. Part of what makes it interesting is not knowing the outcome. Although it's never a foregone conclusion, clearly Jimmy was running at a higher level (Sunday), he's in his prime and he's been on the course a zillion times."
Can a contender come from the ranks of thousands of non-elite entrants?
After four invited Kenyans finished, Japanese runners Nobuhiko Chiba, 34, and Kaito Iwayama, 23, were fifth and sixth Sunday, clocking 2:27:32 and 2:28:55.
But Barahal said he does not think a relatively unknown "citizen runner" is likely to win the race. Eri Hayakawa somehow slipped through the regimented Japanese running system and won two years ago.
"It would be a nice Walter Mitty story, but it's a fantasy. A 2:28 marathon is good, but it's not world class," he said. "I'd have to see what times they have at shorter distances to determine their potential."
Not leaving for Las Vegas: There was some concern that the switching of the Las Vegas Marathon to Dec. 4 and its increased marketing might take away entries from Honolulu.
"I don't think it affected us at all," Barahal said.
The numbers back that up.
The 24,643 entries who started Sunday's Honolulu Marathon was up around 1,000 from 2004.
Now called The New Las Vegas Marathon, that event started on The Strip. It drew 10,955 entries, including 36 running Elvises, three couples who were married and 17 couples who renewed their vows at a run-through wedding chapel at mile five.
Transition game: Barahal was arranging an appearance for Muindi at Saturday's basketball game between Hawaii and Utah State at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"He loves the game and understands it very well," said marathon spokesman Pat Bigold, who also said it's a "slam dunk" that Muindi will be back to defend his title next year.
Ready in Iraq: As of yesterday, 108 entrants had signed up for the Honolulu Marathon's satellite race in Iraq scheduled for Sunday. The event was originally scheduled to coincide with the race here, but was postponed.
Last year there was a similar event in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan.