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Previews18 Apr 2015

Former champions ready to clash at Boston Marathon


Meb Keflezighi wins the 2014 Boston Marathon (© Getty Images)

Meb Keflezighi knows that the combination of factors which led to his emotional victory in last year’s Boston Marathon is unlikely to come together again on Monday (20) at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

His rivals this year likely won’t allow him to build a significant lead early in the race, as he did in 2014. But Keflezighi, by far the most successful US marathoner of this century, has arrived in Boston in better condition than he did in 2014 to enjoy his opportunity to wear bib No.1. Last month he ran 1:02:17 at the New York City Half Marathon, 36 seconds faster than in 2014.

Keflezighi, who turns 40 in May, was Boston’s oldest race winner since Clarence DeMar in 1930. DeMar, like Keflezighi an Olympic medallist, won seven times in Boston, his last at the age of 41; Keflezighi will have two more chances to win before he is older than DeMar was.

Keflezighi’s best races have come in situations where smart racing matters more than fast PBs, and those situations are the norm on the hilly Boston course.

Starting in the distant suburb of Hopkinton, the course winds down through seven towns (Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline) before finally arriving in Boston proper for the final miles. After long downhill stretches in the early miles, runners climb through Newton – often the moment when the overly-ambitious discover the error of their ways – and then roll back down into Boston, this time with legs drained from the Newton hills.

Keflezighi isn’t the only former champion on the line. Lelisa Desisa, the 2013 champion, struggled in 2014 but clearly knows how to win in Boston. He returned his 2013 medal to the city after the drama which played out at the finish line hours after he crossed it. Should he win another one for himself, it might come with the keys to the city. The world silver medallist also has the second-fastest PB in the field, a 2:04:45 from Dubai in 2013.

Not to be ignored is former world record-holder Patrick Makau. The Kenyan, whose record of 2:03:38 stood in the shadow of Geoffrey Mutai’s jaw-dropping (albeit aided) 2:03:02 course record in Boston, last raced in Fukuoka, and will be making his first attempt at one of the more challenging courses in the World Marathon Majors series after a career of relatively flat races.

Two-time world champion Abel Kirui, unlike Makau and more like Keflezighi, has excelled at racing tactically rather than just for speed. Also in the field is former New York City Marathon champion Gebre Gebremariam, who has twice finished third in Boston, and the 2014 runner-up Wilson Chebet, the only runner strong enough late in the race to come close to catching Keflezighi. Chebet is unlikely to let Keflezighi get more than two or three strides in front of him in 2015.

Yemane Tsegaye and Tadese Tola make five men in the field with sub-2:05 PBs, with those two at 2:04:48 and 2:04:49 from Rotterdam 2012 and Dubai 2013 respectively.

Open women’s field

The women’s race is considered by many to be wide open in a way it hasn’t been for several years. With many races coming down to the final kilometres since the professional women were given their separate start, it wouldn’t be surprising to see as many as three or four women in contention through the last mile – or for the surges and attempts to thin down the field to start much earlier than usual.

First mention must go to the two former Boston champions in this field, Sharon Cherop (2013) and Caroline Kilel (2011). Cherop is the fastest Kenyan in the field with a 2:22:28 PB, but both she and Kilel know the feeling of coming down the last straight on Boyleston Street with the race still undecided.

Buzunesh Deba was runner-up in 2014 and has the fastest Boston time of any of the women entered: her PB of 2:19:59 was set here last year. The Ethiopian is based in New York City and is a familiar face there, placing second in that race twice. All 15 of her career marathons to date have been in the US and she has finished in the top two in 12 of those, winning eight of them. But her last victory was in 2011.

Also in the ‘past race-makers’ category are the two local hopes. Shalane Flanagan set the fierce early pace that brought the race’s first sub-2:20 women’s marks last year, including Deba’s, and after running 2:21:14 last year in Berlin she returns to not chasing times but places. Flanagan grew up closer to Boston than Hopkinton and said last year she would keep coming back until she won. Flanagan’s Berlin mark gives her a faster PB than either Cherop or Kilel.

Desiree ‘Desi’ Linden, whose surname was Davila when she nearly stole victory from Kilel in 2011, will return to the site of her best race looking for a better one.

The actual fastest PB in the field belongs to Deba’s countrywoman Mare Dibaba, who ran 2:19:52 in Xiamen earlier this year. Dibaba has run five marathons in the past 12 months, a much higher frequency of racing than most professional marathoners, but it clearly has not slowed her down.

Not to be missed is Shure Ware, the young Ethiopian whose 2:20:59 in Dubai earlier this year is the fastest time ever achieved by a junior.

Traditionally run on the Patriots’ Day holiday, a commemoration observed only in the states of Massachusetts and Maine, the Boston Marathon is the only major marathon run on a weekday. Founded shortly after the marathon event was created in 1896 with the modern Olympic Games, it is one of the oldest annually-run road races in the world. This year’s running will be the 119th.

From a field of 18 in 1897, last year the Boston Athletic Association, the race’s organisers, accepted 35,000 entries. This year, approximately 30,000 runners will start in four waves, with the professional women starting at 9:32am local time and the professional men with the first wave of the mass start at 10:00am.

Parker Morse for the IAAF