Geoffrey Mutai is, arguably, the fastest marathoner in the world, and his argument is the jaw-dropping 2:03:02 performance he delivered when everything came together at the 2011 Boston Marathon. Certainly the historic Hopkinton-to-Boston course’s elevation change and start-finish separation make it ineligible for World records precisely because the conditions of last year’s race enable fantastic performances like Mutai’s, but it still requires a talented and well-trained athlete to take advantage of the conditions they find, and Mutai still had to run at the edges of his ability to defeat marathon debutant Moses Mosop last April.
Mutai will return to that course on Monday 16 April, as the Boston Marathon stages its 116th running on the state holiday of Patriots’ Day. The elite women will start just after 9:30 local time, with the elite men and the first of three mass start waves beginning at 10:00.
The BAA Boston Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
MEN's race - Mutai in the driver’s seat
Mutai’s follow-up to his 2011 Boston victory, a 2:05:06 course record at the ING New York City marathon in November, meant his average finishing time in 2011 was 2:04:04, just five seconds slower than the World record 2:03:59 of Haile Gebrselassie’s which stood at the beginning of 2011. So even though Mutai is careful to emphasise that his return to Boston in 2012 should not be expected to match the pyrotechnics of 2011, it’s impossible to look to anyone else as the favorite for this year’s field.
Mutai dismisses talk of records in 2012, emphasising that his goal is simply to win and add a repeat victory to his case to be selected for Kenya’s Olympic team. With two 2011 wins in his book, a second victory in Boston would also put Mutai in a nearly unassailable position to capture the half-million-dollar World Marathon Majors purse at the end of 2012.
Aside from his demonstrated speed, Mutai carries a second advantage in to Boston: his preferred racing tactic, to lay off the lead early and run the closing miles harder than anyone else, is almost perfectly suited to Boston’s course, which features punishing downhills in the early miles and a series of progressively more difficult climbs in Newton, just at the part of the marathon distance where early pacing decisions come back to haunt the unwise or imprudent.
While Mutai will not need to contend this year with Mosop - who runs this Sunday in Rotterdam - 2011 third-place finisher Gebre Gebremariam, the man Mutai supplanted as NYCM champion, will be back in Boston, along with 2010 Boston champion Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, who held the Boston course record before Mutai’s amazing 2011 run. Wilson Chebet, Wesley Korir and Bernard Kipyego join the list of Kenyans hoping they can find the magic recipe that unlocks sub-2:04 clockings on a course otherwise considered one of the toughest among major marathons.
WOMEN's race - Kilel hopes to break a streak by establishing one
No woman has repeated as Boston Marathon champion since Catherine Ndereba’s 2004-2005 victories, but Caroline Kilel will be trying to break that streak on Monday. To do so, she will have to better one of the deeper women’s fields in recent Boston memory. Kilel will not have to face Desiree Davila, the American who kept the race in doubt until the 42 kilometre mark, as Davila duplicated that runner-up finish at the U.S. Olympic team trials in January.
However, 2011’s tight finish, with several athletes in contention until very late in the race, has been characteristic of Boston in recent years, with two seconds the average margin of victory over the last four years. That makes the presence of third-place finisher Sharon Cherop and fourth-place finisher Caroline Rotich significant.
Rita Jeptoo will join Kilel as the only other woman at the start to have crossed the Boyleston Street finish line first; she won in 2006.
Perhaps more threatening to Kilel is the Boston debut of Firehiwot Dado, the surprise winner of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon and another runner whose trajectory recently has been nothing but up.
Dado’s one-time teammate and New York runner-up Buzunesh Deba will be in Boston as well, along with Aselefech Mergia, who drew attention with her sub-2:20 (2:19:31, an Ethiopian national record) clocking in Dubai earlier this year, and Frankfurt course record setter Mamitu Daska.
Finally, a formidable team of Russians are entered. Three Russian women have won in Boston, including a 1992-1993 double by Olga Markova and, most recently, Lidiya Grigoryeva in 2007. Galina Bogomolova, Alevtina Biktimirova, Nadezdha Leonteva and 2010 Boston runner-up Tatyana Pushkareva will be on the line this year; Bogomolova is former Russian national record holder and a training partner of the current record holder, Liliya Shobukhova.
The end result of this mix is likely to be, yet again, a tight race to the finish, as the women come out of the Newton Hills with multiple contenders still together. It’s a thrill for the spectators but a nightmare for television producers, who last year had to juggle a men’s race on world best pace and a women’s race with more drama than an action movie.
Parker Morse for the IAAF