|The 109th Running of the Boston Marathon - The Men's Race
by John Elliott
Boston, MA April 18, 2005 - As always, the Boston Marathon attracted a strong field of men, almost all Kenyan. Our pre-race favorite, Robert Cheboror, was a late no-show due to visa problems - so, in our opinion, there were no favorites and this was certain to be a race of surprises. That assessment proved true as we watched some new faces emerge as upcoming stars in one of the more strategic Boston Marathons of recent years. We were also gratified to see some success among American men.
If it hadn't been 84 degrees the year before, we would have said that the 70 degree weather would be a factor. But, while all of the elite athletes, when prodded, complained of the heat, that didn't seem to be a deciding factor in this race.
The race began, on time as always, at noon. As in past years, the pack remained large - over 30 - through the opening miles. After mile 6, Stephen Kiogora (Ken) began moving away from the pack, followed by Khalid El Boumlili (Mar). These two continued to move ahead to open a lead of nearly twenty-five seconds by mile 9 and continued with this gap as the following pack began to shrink to a more reasonable size. Working together, the pack caught the leaders by the 25K mark (1:18:29) and it became a new race as ten runners were in a group: Stephen Kiogora (Ken), Hailu Neguissie (Eth), Timothy Cherigat (Ken), El Boumlili (Mar), Benjamin Kipchumba (Ken), Thomas Omwenga (Ken), Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot (Ken), Wilson Onsare (Ken), Benson Cherono (Ken). Two Americans, Alan Culpepper and Ryan Shay were hanging on just behind the pack. Seven Kenyans, one Ethiopian, one Morrocan and a couple of Americans just behind - this looked like another year of Kenyan domination of the Boston Marathon.
Not promoted as rabbits, Kiogora and El Boumlili would eventually drop out - it did seem a surprise to organizers and we did think Kiogora should be a contender. Maybe we were wrong. Or maybe the early pace just took it out of these two.
By 30K (1:34:01), the pack was down to six runners: Timothy Cherigat, the defending champion, was setting the pace, with Hailu Negussie (Eth), Benson Cherono (Ken), Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot (Ken), Benjamin Kipchumba (Ken) and Wilson Onsare (Ken) completing the pack. Alan Culpepper, the top American was running six seconds behind this group, alone in 7th place.
Trying to break from the Kenyan onslaught, Negussie tried a number of surges, only to be rebuffed until he was able to break free from the pack at around the mile 19 mark (1:40:42). Only Cheruiyot followed (perhaps trying to make up for his 2004 performance where he dropped out at mile 24 due to the heat?) and these two began to open a gap which quickly became substantial. At the same time, the following pack began to disintegrate and the Kenyan team was in disarray as one by one they began to fade over the next few miles. Of the remaining Kenyans, only Onsare seemed comfortable in his pace and cruised along in third place.
By mile 23 (1:55:20), Negussie was able to drop Cheruiyot and began to extend a lead that would continue to grow through the finish. At this point, Onsare was firmly in third place, Benson Cherono was fourth and Culpepper was just passing a fading Cherigat to move into fifth place.
With the situation playing out as it had, the finishing order was not a surprise: Negussie captured the win in 2:11:45 to become the second Ethiopian to ever win the Boston Marathon (following in the footsteps of the 1987 champion Abebe Mekonnen). Wilson Onsare finished in second place in 2:12:21, Benson Cherono finished third in 2:12:48 and Alan Culpepper took fourth place in 2:13:39 - the best place for an American since 1987. A fading Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot held onto fifth place in 2:14:30.
As we thought - who could predict any of this? What was most exciting (to us) was that a) the Kenyan men proved to be less invincible than we've been led to believe, b) some relative newcomers have now had the opportunity to rise and c) Americans are knocking on the door of the top three in our major marathons.
To elaborate: at 25-years old, Hailu Negussie should have a long career ahead of him. The winner of a number of marathons in Asia over that past few years, Negussie finished fourth at the 2004 Boston Marathon, but is not yet a household name in the marathoning community - perhaps with this win, that will change - and it is a nice change that this runner is not from Kenya but from neighboring Ethiopia. 28 year-old Wilson Onsare burst onto the marathon scene with a 2:06:47 third-place finish at his debut marathon in Paris. Finishing in the top four in all of his three next marathons, his second place finish at Boston will extend his run. And, as a 20-year old, Benson Cherono's third place finish in Boston, his second marathon, shows that his fifth place finish at New York in 2004 is only the beginning of great things to come. We love this new crop of runners...
And what can we say about the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials winner, Alan Culpepper? His fourth place finish in Boston shows that American men can run - and can keep up with the Kenyans...
All-in-all, an exciting tactical race, and an exciting look at things to come. Boston never fails to deliver.