Australian hopes to be a quick study

Australia's Andrew Letherby has never run in Grandma's Marathon, but he knows the race. He can tell you Dick Beardsley ran 2 minutes, 9 seconds here in 1981. He can tell you Garry Bjorklund ran 2:10 here in 1980. He's read Beardsley's 2004 book "...

Australia's Andrew Letherby has never run in Grandma's Marathon, but he knows the race.

He can tell you Dick Beardsley ran 2 minutes, 9 seconds here in 1981.

He can tell you Garry Bjorklund ran 2:10 here in 1980.

He's read Beardsley's 2004 book "Staying the Course: A Runner's Toughest Race."

So when Letherby steps to the starting line of Saturday's 31st Grandma's Marathon he'll have a sense of history and of what's ahead.


He's among the contenders for the men's title and hoping to run fast enough to be chosen for Australia's 2008 Olympic marathon team.

"I haven't been to an Olympics and that's what I really want to achieve." said Letherby, who has lived in Boulder, Colo., for six years. "My goal at Grandma's is to try to win, to be in contention, but to make our Olympic team it comes down to running a quick time. I will have to run under 2:12."

Letherby, 33, is taking a break from major marathons to run in Duluth, recognized for having a fast course. He's raced in New York City, Chicago, Boston, Berlin and London, and was in the World Cross Country Championships in March in Mombasa, Kenya, placing 45th in the 12-kilometer race as the first non-African-born finisher.

He's placed in the top eight in Boston twice and Berlin, where he ran a personal best of 2:11:45 in 2005. No other Australian currently competing at the elite level has managed a top-eight place in a World Marathon Majors race. One other Australian, Scott Westcott, has run a few seconds faster than Letherby and beat him by one place in the 2006 Commonwealth Games last year.

"Andrew is too modest to say so, but he's probably our No. 1 marathoner in Australia," his coach, Nic Bideau of the Melbourne Track Club, said in an e-mail. "In Australia he's not viewed with the respect his results deserve mainly because he doesn't live [here] and another athlete, [track star] Craig Mottram, is such a high achiever others are truly overshadowed by him. But [Letherby] is the last Australian to beat Mottram," in a 10K cross country race in Spain in 2005.

(Mottram set an Australian two-mile track record Sunday in winning the event in 8:03.50 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., the fastest ever run in the United States, while Kenya's Daniel K. Komen ran the fastest mile on American soil in 3:48.28.)

Letherby has some endurance lineage. His mother, Desiree, took up running at age 32 and competed for Australia in the 1981 World Cross Country Championships and the 1985 World Cup Marathon. His sister, Teresa, was a top Australian race walker in the 1990s. His wife, Meg, an American, will be running in her 18th marathon Saturday and has a best of 2:58.

"If my mom hadn't started in the sport, I may never have started," said Letherby, a 1998 graduate of Georgia State, who will wear No. 3 on Saturday.


While Letherby has run cross country and shorter road races in 2007, his focus has been on the marathon. He said he's averaged 120 miles per week in training with high weeks reaching 130-140 miles. Some of his training has been with Boulder resident Charles Kamindo, 28, of Kenya, also entered in Grandma's Marathon, and American Alan Culpepper.

"I think Andrew will run his very best marathon within the next two years -- hopefully he can win Grandma's, which would be a big boost to his confidence," said Bideau.

Kenyan is No. 1

Defending Grandma's Marathon men's champion Sergei Lukin of Russia didn't return, so No. 1 will be worn by Kenya's Thomas Omwenga.

Omwenga, 27, ran a best of 2:10:44 in placing fourth in the 2004 Seoul International Marathon. He was also fourth in the 2006 Los Angeles Marathon in 2:11:47.

Former Grandma's Marathon champion Wesly Ngetich, 29, of Kenya has bib No. 6, while Belgium's Rik Ceulemans, 34, is No. 7 with a best of 2:13:42. He's seeking to run 2:12 to be chosen for Belgium's team in the 2007 World Championships on Aug. 25 in Osaka, Japan.

The top American entrant is Kyle Baker, 31, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who has run 2:14:12. He was a five-time All-American at Michigan State and has qualified for three U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, including 2008, by running 2:21:01 in the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon. He'd like to run faster Saturday.

"I look at my name on the list of qualifiers for the Olympic Trials and I've got the 92nd best time. I want to do better than that," said Baker, who has two degrees from Michigan State and is working on an interior design undergraduate degree at the Kendall College of Art and Design. "The fire is still there for running and I'm just as passionate about school, it just takes some adjusting to work everything in."


Two of Duluth's top marathoners are entered -- Eric Hartmark and Jeremy Polson, both 29. Hartmark has a best of 2:21:56 and is making his Grandma's Marathon debut. Polson has run as well as any Minnesota road racer in 2007 with a second-place finish at the Human Race 8K in 24:14 in March in St. Paul, a course-record 1:07:21 in the Earth Day Half-Marathon in April in St. Cloud, Minn., and a 14:43 win in the Ryan Kraft Memorial 5K in May in Minneapolis. He has a marathon best of 2:25:57.

Leading the masters entrants 40 and older, are Gideon Mutisya, 40, of Kenya; Fedor Ryzhov, 47, of Russia; and Bruce Deacon, 40, of Victoria, British Columbia. Mutisya ran 1:22:42 as the second master in the River Bank Run 25K in May in Grand Rapids, Mich. Deacon is hoping to break the Canadian men's masters mark of 2:19:41.

South Africa's Krige Schabort, 43, has won the last two Grandma's Marathon wheelchair titles, including a course-record 1:26:00 in 2005. The Cedartown, Ga., resident was second in the 2007 Boston Marathon in 1:36:10 behind Japan's Masazumi Soejima, 36, in 1:29:16 on a windy, rainy day in April.

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