18 APR 2009 General News Boston, USA

Tune and Cheruiyot cautiously optimistic on eve of Boston title defences

Ethiopian Dire Tune winning the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon (Victah Sailer)Ethiopian Dire Tune winning the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Dire Tune was a mystery when she became the Boston Marathon women's champion in 2008, and now, after a year in the spotlight, the handicappers are still finding it challenging to evaluate her form.

The BAA Boston Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Through an interpreter at Friday's (17th) pre-race press conference, Tune explained how her fitness swung between excellent and poor in the second half of 2008. Tune's preparation for the Beijing Olympic Marathon was confused and interrupted. After a lackluster showing in Beijing, Tune's preparation for last fall's ING New York City Marathon was rushed, she said in explanation of her less-than-impressive showing there (she finished 7th). Tune now points to her third-place finish in Puerto Rico's World's Best 10K this March, in a PB 31:53, as a better indicator of what she's capable of. New York City Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg agrees, "Tune is a different athlete now than she was in November."

As in 2008, Tune will not outline potential strategies, preferring instead to decide her strategy when the race is already halfway run.

"Conditions may be different. I don't know the condition of my competitors. I will attack when I know my competitors," she continues, acknowledging that as in 2008, that attack may not come until she is in sight of the finish line.

Cheruiyot plays enigmatic

"We are all here to win." An admirable sentiment from four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, particularly because he is including all the thousands who will start from Hopkinton on Monday (20th). Still, perhaps it's a little frustrating when the questioner was hoping to hear what he would think about a fifth victory for himself. Asked more directly, his response is less abstract but no more of an answer. "I can answer on Monday. I have not yet won."

Cheruiyot is normally reticent in advance of a race, and it's clear from his expert evasions that recent spiritual experiences are still in the forefront of his mind. "We are all number one," Cheruiyot reminded reporters gently, "because we are all human beings."

If those don't sound like the words of a determined champion, that's fine with Cheruiyot. He's here to run, not talk. The assembled press, however, needs a little more story to tell when it comes to setting the marathon scene. In this case the background was provided by agent Frederico Rosa and training partner Evans Cheruiyot (no relation).

They suggest that Robert has arrived in Boston as fit as he's ever been, regularly twenty seconds ahead of Evans in workouts. Evans, whose best time is nearly a minute quicker, stopped trying to match his taller partner's pace in workouts because it simply made Robert push harder.

Evans clarifies that this does not, in his mind, mean he himself is not a legitimate contender for the title. If Robert is to win a fifth title, Evans will make sure he earns it. If long-range weather forecasts predicting a headwind for the west-to-east race come true, the diminutive Evans might be found tucked in the lee of his taller training partner until all others have been shaken off.

Hall and Goucher represent possibility

American marathoners Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher continued to attract attention from the media, with Hall answering questions for nearly an hour at the press conference. While both Hall and Goucher are legitimate contenders, neither will find a victory easily. Wittenberg points out that the attention Hall and Goucher are receiving has more to do with possibility than probability. In other words, it's not how likely they are to win, but what would happen if they do.

"I think we should be proud of them if they land on the podium," she said. "But these are two of the most compelling [American] athletes we've had in the sport, and they're athletes Americans can identify with. If Goucher wins, for example, that's going to plant the seed with thousands of young girls that they could be the next Kara Goucher. And talented as she is, there are more like her who just need a reason to get started in the sport."

Note: See related content for a general preview of Monday's race.

Parker Morse for the IAAF