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The 114th Running of the Boston Marathon - The Men's Race
by John Elliott and Sharon Ekstrom
The Boston Marathon is arguably the most famous and most storied marathon in the world. Runners come to Boston as their opportunity to make a name for themselves, to follow in the steps of Cosmas Ndeti, Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson or one of dozens of men and women made famous partly through their wins at Boston - either one win or multiple. The world watches the Boston Marathon - and what happens in Boston is much more than just the race.
The Prior Year: 2009's America vs. the World
The 2010 Boston Marathon built on a theme created in the 2009 race: America vs. the World. It had been 25 years since Boston had seen an American winner and the 2009 race was all about two Americans: Ryan Hall in the men's race and Kara Goucher in the women's race - the question, could an American win. But the story did not materialize and both Americans finished third - good performances, but not wins, they did not satisfy the goal. And so it would be another year until America could come to the forefront - and a breakthrough came with Meb Keflezighi winning the New York City Marathon, but that is another story.
2010's America vs. the World Redux
With the 2009 not living up to its expectation, the 2010 Boston Marathon became a retry for America vs. the World. For the 2010 edition, the Americans were two men: Ryan Hall, America's fastest current marathoner; and Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist, the winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon, and a multiple top-three finisher at major international marathons. For the 2010 Boston Marathon, the World consisted of past Boston Marathon champions and some of the other top marathoners in the world. Four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot's quest for a fifth title was another storyline that was enhanced and morphed into a rematch of sorts as Cheruiyot had been beaten man-to-man by Meb Keflezighi at the 2009 New York City Marathon. Deriba Merga, the defending champion, had told MarathonGuide.com reporters before the race that he hadn't known what to expect in his debut Boston Marathon experience in 2009 and that the win that year was a bit of a surprise, but he fully expected to win in 2010 and given his knowledge of the course and with the right weather, he expected the course record to fall.
Boston - A Place For Redemption
Many have said that winning Boston changed their life. Ssuccess at Boston could redeem any past failures - success at Boston might mean redemption. Deriba Merga was a case in point - with Boston standing as redemption after the 2008 Olympic Marathon. The great marathoner had run a superb Olympic Marathon, leading for most of the race before Sammy Wanjiru and Jaouad Gharib surged and left Merga behind. At least the bronze seemed assured for Merga until he faded to almost a crawl and was passed in the final yards to finish in fourth place with no medal struggling while his compatriot Tsegay Kebede passed him. Following on the ignomy of that Olympic experience, Merga set a course record and won the Houston Marathon - but the memory of his Olympic failure was not erased until his epic victory at Boston in 2009. Merga had found redemption at Boston, but to complete that, he had a need to repeat that win, an outcome he expected.
Abderrahim Goumri had come to Boston for redemption as well. Goumri had the fastest marathon times of anyone entered into the 2010 race - the only runner in the field to have run sub 2:06. Yet, despite five top three finishes at World Marathon Majors events, Goumri had never won a marathon [editors note, Goumri did win a local Norwegian Marathon which he ran on a lark in the 1990s, but that is seldom referenced].
Ryan Hall was in Boston to take care of unfinished business - to make up for his imperfect performance at the 2009 Boston Marathon. In that race, Hall took out the initial pace at better than world record splits, but later faded badly to a still-respecatble third. Like some others, Ryan Hall had yet to win a major marathon - his one marathon victory at the 2008 US Olympic Marathon Trials was not against an international field and lacked that meaning even as he completely outclassed the American-only field that day. To prepare for the victory, Hall spent three weeks studying the Boston Marathon course - consulting with past champions and running each part of it. He wanted the win.
Meb had set three personal bests in a row at the marathon, but had never broken 2:09. Bob Larson, Meb's coach, told us what we already knew: that Meb's best times are still to come. At the 2009 New York City Marathon, the Olympic Silver Medalist corrected his winless record while setting personal best of 2:09:15. But even with that win and a stellar record of finishing top three in major international marathons, Meb's best time only garnered him a bib numbered 18 at the 2010 Boston Marathon. A new PR, and something under 2:08 - possibly combined with a win - would do much to cement Keflezighi's place on everyone's list of the greatest marathoners of all time.
The race started well for all of the players we've mentioned. Ryan Hall took the lead as he had in 2009, and while the pace was very fast (still ahead of course record), it was not insane (in 2009, Hall had started out faster than world record pace). Hall was also doing what he said he would - as the field would surge, Hall might hang back at an even pace and then regain the pack as it later slowed. It was interesting to watch - and confusing - as Hall would drop back as far as ten or fifteen seconds behind the pack and then reattach himself to the pack and take over the lead. After watching this a few times, we felt that Hall must know exactly what he was doing.
Merga played his part: each time the pack might slow, he would pick up the pace and step to the lead. He seemed to know the exact pace to ensure the pack was moving just faster than the course record pace at all times. At the same time, Goumri and Keflezighi looked comfortable remaining in the pack - seeming to conserve energy by letting others do the work in the early miles.
And that is how the race began and continued through mile 18 - as a pack of eight men, including all of our favorites ran toward the Newton Hills.
The Newton Hills are the typical point for a move in the Boston Marathon and as the pack reached this point, it was just a bit behind course record pace and Merga starting surging. The pack started to break apart and Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot was the only man to continue with Merga. Of all the redemptions stories possible on the day, it seemed that it was Merga's that would play out.
As Merga, with Cheruiyot in tow, continued to advance the lead, the other stories began to unravel. Goumri was the first to completely fail as he began to walk at mile 18 and dropped out. Tekeste Kebede - a relative newcomer to the marathon - was alone in third place. Keflezighi seemed to have fourth place claimed, but he was losing time on the leaders and possibly on 2:09. Hall seemed to be having little success as he fell back as far as ninth place - fading in a manner very reminiscent of his performance the year before.
Before the race, Merga told us that he had thought a new course record was possible and during the race, we note that Merga knew and held that pace. After the race, Cheruiyot told us that at around mile 22 - still with Merga - he recognized that he was on record pace and decided to push the pace to get that record. As fate would have it, Merga's dream was transfered to Cheruiyot. Cheruiyot pushed away from Merga and continued to speed up through the finish and a significant record.
Behind, Merga's day was turning into a repeat of his 2008 Olympic experience. As Merga slowed, Merga's compatriot Tekeste Kebede (no relation to Tsegay Kebede) passed Merga in the final quarter mile of the course. Then, on Merga's tail appeared Ryan Hall threatening to catch Merga in the final yards to take away the third spot on the podium - it looked to us like the Olympics all over; and it looked to us like a repeat of Hall's 2009 Boston Marathon: falling well back and then recovering to third place. But Merga did manage to hold onto third place - just barely...
While Cheruiyot ran on to a significant course record of 2:05:52 (surpassing the previous record of 2:07:14 set in 2006), none of the other hoped for outcomes materialized. Merga could not repeat his win or set a record, but instead slowed signifcantly just as he had in some previous races. Keflezighi failed to win the Boston Marathon, but even worse, failed to break 2:09 as he finished in 2:09:26. Hall did not win and did not better his 2009 Boston Marathon placement, but he did manage to run the fastest Boston Marathon ever run by an American at 2:08:41. And while Abderrahim Goumri started the day, on paper, as arguably the toughest man in the field, he was, instead, the first to fall.
The Marathon is Never What We Expect
What we love about the marathon is that whatever we think might happen invariably does not. There is a lot of human drama played out in the 26.2 miles of the marathon course - dreams are made and dreams are crushed.
One to Confuse the Record Books
And how could we fail to comment on the bizarre coincidence of names that will now confuse the record books of the Boston Marathon. The books will now list the name Robert K. Cheruiyot five times as the winner of the Boston Marathon and twice as having set the record at the Boston Marathon. MarathonGuide.com has always been careful to refer to Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot as Robert K. Cheruiyot, because he was the second Robert Cheruiyot to become a successful marathoner - confusing enough. But now Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot has won Boston, sharing the same first name, last name and middle initial as the four-time Boston Marathon champion. Now we should refer to both Cheruiyots with their full middle name, but we know that many will fail to do so - watch out... While less confusing, we're also amused by the irony that an Ethiopian runner named Kebede passed Merga both in the final minutes of the Olympics Marathon and then again an Ethiopian runner named Kebede passed Merga in the final minutes of the Boston Marathon - but of course those were different Kebedes.
The 2010 Boston Marathon will go down in the record books for its significant course record, but we also know the other stories that made the day. As always, Boston did not disappoint.
1. Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:05:52 / $150,000
(+ $25,000 course record bonus)
2. Tekeste Kebede (ETH) 2:07:23 / $75,000
3. Deriba Merga (ETH) 2:08:39 / $40,000
4. Ryan Hall (USA) 2:08:41 / $25,000
5. Mebrahtom Keflezighi (USA) 2:09:26 / $15,000
6. Gashaw Asfaw (ETH) 2:10:53 / $12,000
7. John Komen (KEN) 2:11:48 / $9,000
8. Moses Kigen Kipkosgei (KEN) 2:12:04 / $7,400
9. Jason Lehmkuhle (USA) 2:12:24 / $5,700
10. Alejandro Suarez (MEX) 2:12:33 / $4,200
11. Cutbert Nyasango (ZIM) 2:12:40 / $2,600
12. Antonio Vega (USA) 2:13:47 / $2,100
13. Elijah Keitany (KEN) 2:14:48 / $1,800
14. Stephen Kiogora (KEN) 2:14:50 / $1,700
15. Chala Dechase (ETH) 2:14:57 / $1,500