|The 108th Running of the Boston Marathon - The Men's Race
by John Elliott
Boston, MA April 19, 2004 - As always, the Boston Marathon attracted a strong field of men, almost all Kenyan. Pre-race favorites included the top three finishers from 2003 - Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai and Martin Lel - as well as the 2002 winner, Rodgers Rop. There were other elite athletes participating, but all commentators (including us), believed that the race would go to one of these men. In the end, we were all proven wrong - as, with the exception of Lel repeating his third place finish, the top five finishers were none of the above...
A big part of the story was the weather and the temperature would rise into the mid-eighties during the race. At the end, this would have a great effect as certain favorites dropped out of the race.
The race began, on time as always, at noon. With respect to the heat, the race began at a more leisurely pace than we've seen in past years. The pack, taking up the entire road was large and no one was willing to make a move. The race would stay this way at least for the first 9 or 10 miles until runners began to drop back.
At 9 miles (44:43) the pack has shrunk, finally, and 8 runners are emerging as contenders - if not all for the win, then all for top 5 positions. It is Rodgers Rop who has forced the pack to break apart and he leads and sets the pace. With Rop is Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, and these two past champions appear to be demonstrating to the rest of the field that they are not afraid of the course, not afraid of the heat and not afraid of the other runners. Just behind are Martin Lel, Timothy Cherigat, Hailu Negussie Robert Cheboror, Stephen Kiogora and Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai. All of the favorites are here and all look strong, but we can see the sweat building up on their skin. And, in something we haven't seen recently, the runners are all dowsing themselves with water given to them from the crowds - normally we don't see the elite athletes doing this - it must feel very hot on the road today.
At the half-marathon (1:05:30) point, the pack, still consists of the eight runners. Rop nominally leads the pack and we notice that these eight consist of seven Kenyans and one Ethiopian (Negussie).
By mile 17 (1:24:39), the pack had shrunk to four runners as Rodgers Rop, again, has pushed the pace. Timothy Cherigat responded nicely and looks especially strong. Also with Rop and Cherigat are Martin Lel and Robert Cheboror.
Through mile 18 (1:29:42), the race is getting interesting as first Cherigat moves to the front and then Rop, showing his preference for frontrunning retakes the lead. Martin Lel has already fallen two seconds behind and Robert Cheboror is now six seconds behind. This seems to be the real start of the race.
By mile 19 (1:34:48), Lel and Cheboror, who we had virtually written off, have moved back into the pack and look strong. Cheboror actually looks the strongest at this point and Rop, while leading seems to be faltering.
The Newton Hills - "Heartbreak Hill" - this is where the Boston Marathon can be won or lost. And this is where Timothy Cherigat has decided to try to win it. Of course all remember that Cherigat made this same attempt last year - surging forward through the hills, but bringing three others with him from the page - but this year he is running away from the pack which is disintegrating. Cherigat has thrown in a fantastic mile, reaching mile 20 in 1:39:30 - a 4:42 mile! Cheboror is trying to respond and is in second place, but has lost at least four seconds. Lel continues behind and Rop, perhaps tired from leading the race through the heat, is falling behind.
By mile 22 (1:49:32), the hills have ended and Timothy Cherigat has opened up a ten second lead over Robert Cheboror. Lel is another ten seconds back, in third place, and Rop is nowhere to be seen. Cherigat looks very strong and you can tell by the look on his face that he knows that he will win this year's Boston Marathon. This is Cherigat's third attempt at this race - and he must be feeling very happy.
The script did not change for the rest of the race. Cherigat held his lead to win in a time of 2:10:37 (his best Boston time), continuing to move away from the others. Robert Cheboror continued at his own pace, unable to challenge Cherigat, but unthreatened by any other runners - his time at the finish: 2:11:49. Martin Lel held onto third place in 2:13:38. In a surprise, Rodgers Rop and last year's defending champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot both dropped out at the 25 mile mark.