New Orleans, LA – February 25, 2010 – This Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon & 1/2 Marathon will showcase perhaps the most dynamic half-marathon duel ever staged on American soil. 2008 Olympic Marathon gold medalist and half marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru will battle head-to-head against fellow Kenyan and three-time London Marathon champion Martin Lel. Both men set their sites on the April 25th Virgin London Marathon where Wanjiru broke Lel’s course record last year by five seconds.
The first Kenyan to ever win the Olympic Marathon Gold Medal, Wanjiru set the standing half-marathon world record of 58:33 in 2007 at the City-Pier-City Loop in The Hague, The Netherlands. That record marked the third time he had broken the world record at the 13.1-mile distance, having set his first mark at the age of 18.“The timing of the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon is perfect for athletes like me who are preparing for a spring marathon,” said Wanjiru. “For me it's a great opportunity to see where I am before London. Really, I am just looking to come and run a solid race and this gives me a great chance to see where I'm at and what condition I am in.”
Still at the tender age of 23, Wanjiru already owns a career’s list of global achievements, including course record wins at both the 2009 London Marathon (2:05:10) and 2009 Chicago Marathon (2:05:41) - both represent the fastest times ever run in the respective nations. With his wins in Beijing, London, and Chicago Wanjiru earned the 2008-2009 World Marathon Majors championship, and its $500,000 bonus.
31 year-old Lel has been one of the most dominant marathoners of his era. He won the 2005, 2007 and 2008 London marathons, as well as the 2003 and 2007 New York City titles. Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras will mark his second appearance on the Rock `n` Roll tour, as he took top honors at the 2003 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach on his way to his win in New York City.
“To draw the likes of Sammy and Martin to New Orleans demonstrates our commitment to attract the biggest names in the world of running,” said Matt Turnbull, Elite Athlete Coordinator for the Competitor Group. “We’re excited to have two of the greatest road racers in history at the start line this weekend.”
The Kenyan superstars will be joined on the start-line by Ireland’s Martin Fagen who owns a half-marathon personal best of 1:00:57. Also expected to contend is Kenyan McDonard Ondara, winner of the 2007 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in San Jose.
The women's professional field will be led by Berhane Adere of Ethiopia, one of the most decorated female distance runners of all time. Adere, who will compete in the ½ marathon, as well, won back-to-back Chicago Marathons in 2006-07 and was the winner of the Dubai Marathon in 2008. She won the gold medal at the 2002 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships and the `03 IAAF World Championships 10,000 meters. Last summer she won the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon. Her half-marathon personal best of 1:08:17 was set at the 2001 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol, England, where she won the bronze medal.
It was originally planned for Adere to face 2009 Boston Marathon Champion Salina Kosgei over the 13.1-mile course, but Kosgei has unfortunately been forced to pull out of the head-to-head encounter with an injury.
Alongside Adere will be New Zealand Olympian Kim Smith, winner of four NCAA championships at Providence College. She is no stranger to international level racing, having finished 7th at the 2009 world half marathon championships, and placing top-10 at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 world championships over 10,000m.
Adere and Smith will be challenged by Ilsa Paulson, 20, the 2009 U.S. Marathon Champion, who recently finished second to Deena Kastor at last month’s P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon.
Defending men’s marathon champion Meyer Friedman returns to defend his title. Feiedman has won the marathon the past three consecutive years and set his personal record of 2:24:34 last year. New Orleans’ history for record road performances coupled with its flat course provides an ideal stage for an assault on the more records.
“The marathon course has changed substantially over the past 35 years and at one time the Causeway Bridge course was referred to as one of the fastest courses in the world if the conditions were right,” said Chuck George, Executive Race Director with the New Orleans Track Club. “The running media disputed Ron Tabb's 2:11:00 event record as wind-aided, thinking he could not run that fast. But later that year, to their surprise, he finished fourth at the Olympic Trials.”
The New Orleans race begins at 7:00 am on Sunday at Tchoupitoulas and Race streets, with the finish line outside Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park. Event registration for both the marathon and half marathon will be available at the Health & Fitness Expo from 11:30 am - 7:00 pm Friday and 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Saturday at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. There will be no race day registration.
Event weekend will conclude with a postrace party at the House of Blues with Rockin' Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters. Tickets are $25 and it is limited to 800 people .For more information, please visit http://mardi-gras.competitor.com