So, it’s finally happening. The marathon GOAT, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, is coming to Boston for Patriots Day 2023. Today (1 Dec. 2022), the BAA and Kipchoge announced the news.
Quite an introductory announcement for newly named (and richly deserved) BAA President and CEO Jack Fleming.
“We are committed to a great RACE! (Races!),” Jack texted this morning. “We have been preparing for this opportunity for some time. Remember Grete here in 1982? Abebe Bikila here in 1963?”
It’s been a long time in coming, yes, and the hype will be something to behold. The one caveat in this welcome announcement – and it’s one the sport has been unable to extract itself from – is the shadow of PED use. Not by Kipchoge. There has never been a hint of that. But at the World Athletics‘ council meeting in Rome yesterday, Lord Sebastian Coe, the WA president, said Kenya, while avoiding a Russian-like total ban from competition, has a “long journey” ahead to rebuild trust following a disturbing number of doping violations.
“Over the course of one year, 40% of all the positives recorded [in doping tests] in global athletics are in Kenya,” said Coe. “This was not something the sport, and certainly not World Athletics, was prepared to sit and develop.”
Earlier this year, Philemon Kacheran Lokedi, who trains with Kipchoge and his NN Running Team, was banned for three years by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) after testing positive for exogenous testosterone from an out-of-competition sample taken on April 27.
In 2019, Kacheran was one of the pacers for Kipchoge’s successful INEOS-1:59 Challenge. Kipchoge’s coach, Patrick Sang, referred to Kacheran as one of Kipchoge’s strongest training partners. He was the second INEOS pacer to be banned for a doping offense. Alex Korio received a two-year ban for whereabouts failures in 2020.
Fingers crossed the coast remains clear, and that the reality of the race next April lives up to the promise, because, as Jack’s text reminds us, over and above anything untoward, the marathon in Boston can be a tricky thing with its unpredictable weather, hilly terrain, and absence of pacers.
So, notwithstanding the all but immaculate record laid down by the remarkable Mr. Kipchoge – in his 17 official starts, he’s only lost twice, once in Berlin 2013 in his second start, where he placed second behind Wilson Kipsang‘s 2:03:23 world record. And then in 2020 London, when an ear infection threw him off his water, and he really wasn’t the full measure of himself (8th, in 2:06:49). Other than that, victory after victory, record after record.
I’ve been investigating world record holders who’ve also run Boston, and it’s an interesting lineup that Kipchoge will now join. In all, nine men who had set, or would set, the marathon world record, also competed in Boston. Kipchoge will be number ten.
Actually, Kipchoge will be number 11, because in 1947, Yun Bok Suh of Korea ran the only recognized men’s world record at Boston, 2:25:39.
Kenya’s Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai assayed a still-standing course record 2:03:02 “world best” in 2011. But since1990, IAAF rule 260.21 states: The start and finish points on the course, measured along a straight line between them, shall not be further apart than 50% of the race distance. Boston is a west-to-east point-to-point layout from suburban Hopkinton to mid-town Boston.
The second issue with Boston’s course is its elevation. Despite the infamous Heartbreak Hill, Boston drops 459 feet (140 meters) over the 26.2-mile route. This violates another IAAF rule: The overall decrease in elevation between start and finish shall not exceed an average of one meter per kilometer.
Boston’s course, for the record, changes at an average of approximately 3.33 meters per kilometer. All that being said, records are not the aim for Kipchoge in Boston. Like everyone before him, it’s the win that matters. Here’s how the other record setters fared in the Hub.
Kenyan Dennis Kimetto, the previous world record holder before Kipchoge (2:02:57 in Berlin 2014), DNFd Boston earlier that spring in his only appearance in the Hub.
Patrick Makau, the world record holder from 2011 Berlin (2:03:38), also DNFd Boston in 2015.
Welshman Steve Jones ran Boston four times after his world record 2:08:05 in Chicago in 1984. But he only got as high as second place in Boston in 1987 (behind Toshihiko Seko of Japan). His other appearances produced a ninth place in 1988; 11th, 1992; and 15th in 1993.
Rob De Castella of Australia won Boston in a course record 2:07:51 in 1986, the first year of the John Hancock sponsorship (2023 marks JH’s final year with the BAA). Deek set his world record, 2:08:18, in Fukuoka, Japan, in December 1981.
Boston native Alberto Salazar got screwed after his apparent world record 2:08:13 from New York City 1981 was erased after a re-measurement found the five-borough layout 149m short. Alberto, famously, followed up his second of three-straight NYC wins with a historic “Duel In The Sun” victory against Dick Beardsley in the 1982 Boston race.
England’s Ron Hill ran an Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) recognized world record, 2:09:29, in July 1970 in Edinburgh, Scotland just three months after his course record 2:10:30 in Boston.
A guy history seems to have forgotten is Morio Shigematsu from Japan. He ran a world record 2:12-flat in 1965 at the famous (but sadly departed) Polytechnic Marathon in England just 2 months after winning Boston in 2:16:33.
The second world record holder to appear in Boston was legendary Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, whose Olympic wins in 1960 & ‘64 both produced world record times. Of all the historic names listed here, Bikila’s is probably the closest approximation in his own time to what Kipchoge represents now.
Notwithstanding his status, he and soon-to-be Olympic champion Mamo Wolde (Mexico City `68), famously finished fifth and 12th in Boston in 1963. They scorched the checkpoint records throughout the first 15-16 miles until a cold, damp, East headwind coming off the Atlantic turned supple muscle to stone after Heartbreak Hill.
Trivia: who ended up winning Boston 1963? (Answer below)
The first world record holder to run Boston was Robert Fowler, who ran his world record 2:52:46 in Yonkers, N.Y. on January 1, 1909, four years after he finished third in Boston in 1905 in 2:41:07.
People always used to discuss the Olympic jinx that haunted Boston until Joanie Benoit finally broke through by winning the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon in LA ’84 after Boston victories in 1979 and her world record year, 1983 (2:22:43). Then Gelindo Bordin of Italy broke the Olympic jinx on the men’s side when he won Boston 1990 after winning his Olympic gold medal in Seoul ‘88.
Yes, there is plenty of fuel for the hot-stove league this winter heading toward the sweet sweat of April. More names will surely follow in the coming months.
Today, besides Kipchoge, the BAA announced defending Boston and NYC champion Evans Chebet; 2021 Boston winner, and Chebet training mate, Benson Kipruto; and 2013 & 2015 Boston champ, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia.
“You are right!” texts CEO Fleming. “We have a plan and are continuing to plan!”
Off and running. Congratulations, Jack.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The 1963 Boston champion was Belgian bookkeeper Aurele Vandendriessche in a CR 2:18:58.
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