SUB-2:10 MARATHONING 2021

That the earth remains spinning at its axial tilt of 23.44 degrees is another of the great benedictions of 2021. Because down at ground level, many of the old givens have ceased to hold steady.

In the world of marathon running – a niche’s niche if there ever was one – the old verities continue to reform, tugged on one side by the ongoing technological shoe revolution, and pulled on the other by the pandemic’s accursed hand.

In 2021, according to World Athletics‘ data (using all courses, including point-to-point routes like Boston), we witnessed 249 sub-2:10 marathon performances, second most in history behind 2019’s pre-pandemic 293. To show how corrosive Covid-19 has been to the sport, the number of sub-2:10s worldwide plummeted by 45% in 2020 to 163.

Thanks to yeoman work by many marathon staffs and city officials, the sport built back significantly in 2021, though is not yet back to full strength. And there are no promises ahead for 2022 with the Omicron variant still surging.

Kenya regained its traditional top spot on the world list with 93 sub-2:10s this past year, after cratering to just 29 in 2020. Titus Ekiru led the way with his 2:02:57 victory in Milan, Italy on 16 May. It was the 10th time in the last 11 years that a Kenyan athlete has run the world’s best time. Only Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele in Berlin 2018 has broken the Kenyan stranglehold on world #1.

Kenya’s Titus Ekiru leapt to 2021’s world-leading time in Milan (courtesy WatchAthletics.com)

Along those same lines, Ethiopia returned to its usual runner up position on overall sub-2:10s with 55, while Japan surged ahead to finish a close third with 48, the most in its history.

For the fourth time in six years, Galen Rupp led the USA rankings in 2021 off his 2:06:35 second place finish in Chicago. Number two for the Red, White, and Blue came from Kenyan-born WCAP athlete Elkanah Kibet, whose 2:11:15 took fourth in New York City.

Domination by athletes born in East Africa remained incontrovertible as the top non-East-African-born time, Kengo Suzuki‘s 2:04:56 course record in Lake Biwa, stood 2:01 below Titus Ekiru’s world lead. Yet it represented the narrowest gap between East Africa and the rest of the world since 2011, when Ryan Hall’s 2:04:58 fourth place in Boston stood just 1:56 behind Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 world leading course record win.

Below is the full statistical rundown for the last decade plus one.

BREAKDOWN OF SUB-2:10 Marathon Times

  • 2021 Total – 249
    Kenya – 93 (37.3%)
    Ethiopia – 55 (22%)
    Japan – 48 (19.3%)
    USA – 1 (Galen Rupp, 2:06:35 – 2nd, Chicago)
    TOP time – 2:02:57 – Titus Ekiru (KEN) – Milan, 16 May
    Top non-East African born time: 2:04:56 – Kengo Suzuki (JPN) – 1st, Lake Biwa – #24 on world list
  • 2020 Total – 163
    Ethiopia – 54 (33%)
    Japan – 34 (20.8%)
    Kenya – 29 (17.7%)
    USA – 8 (Martin Hehir – 1st, Marathon Project – 2:08:59; Noah Droddy, Colin Bennie, Scott Fauble, Ian Butler, Scott Smith, Mick Iacofano all sub-2:10 at The Marathon Project; Galen Rupp, 2:09:20 – 1st, USA Olympic Trials, Atlanta)
    Top time: 2:03:00 – Evans Chebet (KEN) – Valencia, ESP
    Top non-East African born time: 2:05:29 – Suguru Osako (JPN) – 4th, Tokyo – #14 on world list
  • 2019 Total 293
    Kenya -123 (42%)
    Ethiopia – 98 (33.4%)
    Japan – 16
    USA – 3 (Leonard Korir, 2:07:56 – 11th, Amsterdam; Scott Fauble, 2:09:09- 7th, Boston; Jared Ward, 2:09:25 – 8th, Boston)
    TOP Time: 2:01:41 – Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:06:16 – Sondre Moen (NOR) – 7th, Valencia – #52 on world list
  • 2018 Total – 215
    Kenya – 97 (45%)
    Ethiopia – 67 (31%)
    USA – 2 (Rupp twice, 2:06:07 – 1st, Prague; 2:06:21 – 5th, Chicago)
    TOP time – 2:01:39 WR – Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:05:26 – El Mahjoub Dazza (MAR) – 6th, Valencia – #23 on world list
  • 2017 Total – 186
    Kenya – 113 (60.75%)
    Ethiopia – 41 (22%)
    USA –    2 (Galen Rupp, 2:09:20, 1st in Chicago; Rupp, 2:09:58 – 2nd, Boston)
    TOP time – 2:03:32 – Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:05:48 – Sondre Moen (NOR) – 1st, Fukuoka – #12 on world list
  • 2016 Total – 150 (First year stacked sole shoes were introduced, though only to select few)
    Kenya –  98 (65.3%)
    Ethiopia –  39 (26%)
    USA –   0 (Galen Rupp, 2:10:05, 3rd, Rio Olympics)
    TOP time – 2:03:03 – Keninisa Bekele (ETH) – Berlin
    Top non-East African time: 2:09:01 – Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) – 2nd, Gold Coast – #98 on world list
  • 2015 Total – 172
    Kenya – 97 (56.4%)
    Ethiopia – 57 (33.13%)
    USA –  0 (Luke Puskedra, 2:10:24, 5th in Chicago)
    TOP time: 2:04:00 – Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:07:39 – Masato Imai (JPN) – 7th, Tokyo – #48 on world list
  • 2014 Total – 180
    Kenyan –  106 (58.8%)
    Ethiopian – 57 (31.6%)
    USA –     1 (Meb Keflezighi,  2:08:37, 1st in Boston)
    TOP time – 2:02:57 – Dennis Kimetto (KEN) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:08:09 – Kohei Matsumura (JPN) – 8th, Tokyo – #86 on world list
  • 2013 Total – 189
    Kenya – 99 (52.4%)
    Ethiopia- 61 (32.2%)
    USA –   1 (Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:09:45, 5th in Chicago)
    TOP time – 2:03:23 – Wilson Kipsang (KEN) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:07:55 – Mustapha El Aziz (MAR) – 3rd, Seoul – #58 on world list
  • 2012 Total – 220
    Kenya – 120 (54.5%)
    Ethiopia – 64 (29%)
    USA –     5 (Dathan Ritzenhein (twice), 2:07:47, 9th in Chicago, also Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman)
    TOP time- 2:04:15 – Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) – Berlin
    Top non-East African born time: 2:07:30 – Patrick Tambwe (FRA) – 1st, See Genezareth – #60 world list
  • 2011 Total – 182
    Kenya – 110 (61%)
    Ethiopia – 42 (22%)
    USA –     3 (Ryan Hall – 2:04:58, 4th in Boston; 2:08:04, 5th, Chicago; also Meb, 2:09:13 – 6th, NYC)
    TOP time – 2:03:02 – Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) – Boston
    Top non-East African born time: 2:04:58 – Ryan Hall (USA) – 4th, Boston – #7 on world list
  • 2010 Total – 144
    Kenya – 79 (54.86%)
    Ethiopia – 47 (32.6%)
    USA –  2 (Ryan Hall, 2:08:41 – 4th, Boston; Meb Keflezighi, 2:09:26 – 5th, Boston)
    TOP time – 2:04:48, Patrick Makau (KEN) – Rotterdam
    Top non-East African born time: 2:06:55 – Jaouad Gharib (MAR) – 3rd, London – #23 on world list

Wishing everyone the healthiest, happiest, safest, most prosperous season and year ahead.

END

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