(Reuters) - A doping scandal threatened to overshadow Geoffrey Mutai’s run at a New York City Marathon hat-trick and Wilson Kipsang’s bid for an eye-popping bonus after their compatriot Rita Jeptoo failed a drugs test.
The two Kenyans are among the headliners for Sunday’s race but were suddenly sharing the spotlight with Jeptoo on Friday after Athletics Kenya said the winner of the Boston and Chicago Marathons the last two years failed a doping test
With beefed up security and concerns about Ebola, a doping controversy was yet another unwanted distraction for the 26.2-mile (42.2-km) race through New York’s five boroughs.
Mutai arrives in New York looking to become just the third man, and first since Alberto Salazar in 1980-82, to win three consecutive times in New York.
The 33-year-old Kenyan set the standard in 2011 with a course record of two hours, five minutes and six seconds. The 2012 race was canceled due to Superstorm Sandy but Mutai returned in 2013 to win in a more modest 2:08.24.
Mutai will hold a big edge in experience over his training partner Kipsang as the former world record holder makes his New York debut.
Certainly much of the pressure will be on the Kipsang, who needs a win on Sunday to avoid losing the World Marathon Majors title and the $500,000 bonus to compatriots Dennis Kimetto.
The overall championship includes a runner’s best results from six major marathons (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York) over two years.
Mutai and Kipsang, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, plan to attack the course record, however, a weather forecast of gusting winds are likely to keep the mark from falling.
The two Kenyans are the only entries with marathon personal bests under two hours and four minutes but a quality field could see another winner emerge from a large pack of contenders.
Other notables include the last two winners of the Boston Marathon, Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa and American Meb Keflezighi, reigning Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and 2010 New York winner Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia.
No American man has won the men’s race since Keflezighi in 2009 while no U.S. woman has crossed the finish line first since Miki Gorman in 1977.
Kenyans will be among the favorites in the women’s race as well but Jeptoo’s positive dope test has opened the door for the WMM series title.
Jeptoo leads the series but WMM officials announced on Friday the organization had decided to postpone the awards ceremony that was scheduled to take place on Nov. 2.
Among the leading women contenders is Kenya’s Mary Keitany, who became the second fastest women’s marathoner of all-time (2:18:37) with her London Marathon triumph in 2012.
She has not run a marathon since her fourth place finish in the London Olympics, taking time off to give birth to a second child, but has two third-place finishes in New York.
Buzunesh Deba, an Ethiopian now living in New York, goes for victory after runner-up finishes in the last two New York marathons.
Perhaps the best known athlete in the women’s field will be former world number one tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.
The Dane, who lost to Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open in September, arrives in New York off yet another loss to the world number one at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Steve Keating and Frank Pingue