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Welcome to NYC Marathon weekend

It's New York City Marathon weekend the buzz in the running community continues around American Ryan Hall.

The 27-year-old Hall has unofficially been anointed "The Great American Marathoning Hope" -- the guy who can compete with the best East Africans. The guy who can bring a major marathon win to the United States for the first time in decades.

And when NBC airs it's same day taped-coverage, from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, you can be there will be generous focus on Hall.

Hall In 2007 Hall broke the American half marathon record, winning the Aramco Houston half in 59:43. He then won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at a Central Park but finished a disappointing 10th in the Beijing Games.

Hall has rebounded from that disappointment. In April, he placed third at the Boston Marathon and right now, Hall feels his fitness level is at its best -- regardless of the time and place he captures on Sunday.

"My marathon training is built on a foundation of strong tempo runs and long runs and I've done some pretty special tempo runs lately," Hall said at a press conference in New York. "I'm not going to tell you about them until after the marathon. ... I've got a real good feeling about this last month. We'll see how it plays out on Sunday, though I can't imagine why it wouldn't be good. Even if it isn't on Sunday, I feel that I'm in new territory -- that I've reached a new level -- and that it's going to be a big help to me next spring or next fall in my marathons."

The last American to win the New York City Marathon was Alberto Salazar in 1982.

Hall may have the cheers of the Big Apple fans, but the field for the 40th running is deep, including James Kwambai of Kenya, Jaouad Gharib of Morrocco and Patrick Makau of Kenya. All have run faster times than Hall's best marathon of 2:06:17.

And then there are three former champs in the field who know how to win a marathon -- two-time defending champion Marlison Gomes dos Santos (Brazil), four-time Boston winner Robert Cherulyot (Kenya) and 2004 NYC champ Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa).

Hall said he doesn't feel any pressure as the American favorite. And the American field at the race is actually pretty solid since it is also serving as the USA Men's Marathon Championship.

The depth, and perhaps the desperate hope for an American winner, on the men's side has overshadowed the women's race. Then again, it's Paula Radcliffe's race to lose. The 35-year-old from Great Britain has won eight of the 10 marathons she's entered -- with the unfortunate aberrations coming in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics

Of interest to American fans is the return of Joan Benoit Samuelson. The 52-year old won the inaugural women's Olympic marathon in 1984 and she continues to set the standard for women in the sport. Last year she broke the U.S. women's 50-plus record with a 2:49:08 in the Olympic Trials. While not a contender for the overall podium, she is gunning to win her age group while using the race as a platform for her broader message, encouraging people to simplify their lives and connect with nature.

But if Benoit Samuelson's race is less about winning and more about running, Hall's race is ready to be scrutinized before he even begins. He has been both praised and criticized for his aggressive race pacing. He was the cover story on for this month's Runner's World magazine with the cover teaser "Ryan Hall, He's special but will he ever win?"

The more you read about Ryan Hall, the more you want to cheer for him. And the more you realize that the numbers are important, but that winning is not the only thing which drives him to succeed. Not any more.

More on that tomorrow.

--- Amy Moritz
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