Wesley Korir wins the 2012 BAA Boston Marathon (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
Preview Boston, USA

Korir and Cherop face uphill battle in Boston

After two years where the weather was the headline, the 117th Boston Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, is hopeful that competition will be how this running is remembered.

Defending champions Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop will start in Hopkinton on Monday (15) but neither can count on the heat of 2012 melting down the challenging fields they chase; nor is anyone looking for the perfect combination of cool temperatures and tailwinds which made 2011 the fastest race ever run over the marathon distance.

Korir will look to strategy to defend

Korir brings back his 2:06:13 PB from the 2011 Chicago Marathon, where he was second to Moses Mosop, but also the kind of champions’ target on his vest he did not carry in 2012. Since his victory last year he has campaigned for and won a seat in the Kenyan parliament and continues his energetic development efforts in his native country.

Unfortunately for Korir, a 2:06 PB – even from a hot day in Chicago – doesn’t command the respect it once did. Even after the withdrawal of Mosop and Ryan Hall, both with sub-2:05 credentials, Korir stands seventh on the PB list among the men.

Notably, Levy Matebo, who boasts a 2:05:16 PB from Frankfurt two years ago, led much of the race in 2012 before finishing second, and has returned in hopes of improving on that finish. Another former champion and former course record-holder, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, will toe the line with experience – not only with a fast pace, but with racing successfully on the Boston course.

Boston’s prize money structure, unlike that of next week’s London Marathon, rewards placing well much more than fast finishing times, a nod to the famously challenging course which features a series of three hills in the most challenging section of the course.

Korir and Cheruiyot, who have watched potential rivals self-destruct in those hills, will be counting on strategy and a carefully-executed race plan to best a strong Ethiopian challenge in the form of Gebre Gebremariam (2:04:53 here in 2011), Markos Geneti (2:04:54 in Dubai 2012), and Lelisa Desisa (2:04:45 in Dubai, the fastest PB in the field.)

Perhaps the most intriguing of the Ethiopians, however, is the third former champion in the field, Deriba Merga, who won in 2009. Merga’s record since then is one of ups and downs, good placings mixed with unfinished races.

Merga might be most notable for his courageous effort to match the pace of Sammy Wanjiru in the 2008 Olympic Marathon, an effort which ultimately left him broken in fourth place. One of Boston’s favourite sons, four-time winner Bill Rodgers, is credited with explaining that “if you want to win a race you have to go a little berserk,” and Merga represents both the perils and potentials of that approach.

Domestic hopes are low on the men’s side following the withdrawal of all three of the USA’s 2012 Olympic marathoners – Hall, 2004 Olympic silver medallist Meb Keflezighi, and Abdi Abdirahman. 2012 fourth-place finisher Jason Hartmann will carry the national hopes along with mercurial Fernando Cabada.

Flanagan the focus

The women’s race, quite unlike the men’s, has a strong local focus in the form of Shalane Flanagan, 10th place in the 2012 Olympic marathon and a former star high school runner in Marblehead, less than a Marathon’s distance from Boston.

Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist and winner of the 2012 Lisbon Half Marathon, will be running in Boston for the first time, and has attracted significantly more attention than even the defending champion, Cherop.

Flanagan appears to welcome the pressure, tweeting “Craving competition!” on Friday and telling press conferences how hard she expects to have to work in pursuit of her goal, which is nothing less than the first American victory in Boston since 1985 – since prize money was instituted at the venerable Marathon, as it happens.

Cherop, then, is in the enviable position of a defending champion flying under the radar, as is former champion Rita Jeptoo, also back for another spin at Boston’s laurel wreath. Jeptoo and Cherop will face a strong Ethiopian challenge in the form of Mamitu Daska (2:21:59, Frankfurt 2011) and Amsterdam course record-holder Meseret Hailu Debele (2:21:09).

Flanagan on a bad day may not even be the best American in the field, as her training partner, friend, and frequent rival Kara Goucher will be making her third attempt at Boston. After a third-place finish in 2009 and fifth in 2011, Goucher took 11th, right behind Flanagan, at the London Olympics, and carries more Boston experience out to the suburban Hopkinton start line than even local favourite Flanagan.

The women will run free of traffic and in the spotlight all the way, as they start almost half an hour before the men, stepping off at 9:32am local time (US Eastern). The first wave of the mass start, led by the elite men, begins at 10:00am.

Parker Morse for the IAAF