Again in 2012, the two springtime World Marathon Majors, Boston and London, will be staged six days apart. Boston’s 116th annual sets off from Hopkinton on Monday April 16th for Copley Square, while London’s 32nd annual begins in Blackheath headed for The Mall along St. James Park the following Sunday April 22nd.
Today, 27-year Boston Marathon sponsor John Hancock Financial Services announced the professional field for the annual Patriot’s Day race, while London’s race director Dave Bedford released his women’s field back in early December before travelling to Iten, Kenya to announce his men’s field on January 20th.
Both events are loaded, as the crème of Kenyan and Ethiopian running look to make one last impression on their Olympic selectors before final Olympic squads are chosen for the return to London in August for the Games.
Boston’s field features defending champions Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02, CR, WB) and Caroline Kilel (2:22:36) of Kenya. London parries with defending Kenyan champions Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40, CR) and Mary Keitany (2:19:19). Boston will line up five sub-2:06 men (see below), London counters with ten.
London also has the edge in terms of depth on the women’s side with ten sub-2:23 women to Boston’s five, yet Boston brings together five champions from 2011: Kilel (Boston) and Georgina Rono (Eindhoven) of Kenya, Firehiwot Dado (New York), Aselefech Mergia (Dubai 2012), and Mamitu Daska (Frankfurt) of Ethiopia. London may have fewer current champions, but is Kenyan top heavy with defender Mary Keitany going up against 2011 Berlin champion Florence Kiplagat, and her 2011 World Champion namesake (though unrelated) Edna Kiplagat. (more…)
As 2011 comes to a desultory close, with the race of 2012 shaping up to be the one for the White House in Washington rather than the podium in London, the IAAF’s annual ‘End of the Season’ marathon review by A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) left the two statisticians with their mouths agape, writing…“what really made 2011 a year that will be considered of historical significance in the sport of marathon running was that it changed our perception of what is really possible. The best illustration is probably the fact that there were new course records set in all the five races making up the “World Marathon Majors.”
DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL made a similar case back in November, but more than simply challenging our perceptions of WHAT was really possible, 2011 showed us unequivocally WHO it was possible by.
There were 182 sub-2:10 marathon performances world-wide in 2011, including those on downhill, point-to-point courses like Boston, which, despite its history and renown, is often left off the statistical lists by the Stat-Nazis in the name of purity over common sense. Of that 182, athletes from Kenya ran 110 (61%) led by Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 Boston masterpiece and Patrick Makau’s “official” world record 2:03:38 in Berlin. For the rest of the world – including the mighty Ethiopians with 42 sub-2:10s (22%) – 2011 was the year of nolo contendere. The U.S. was once again led by Ryan Hall (2) and Meb Keflezighi (1) with three sub-2:10s.
As the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials nears in Houston, Texas January 14th, a look back at where the sport was four years earlier gives us a sobering indication of why the sport of distance running has been transformed into an intra-mural battle among Kenyan camps rather than a world-class competition amongst evenly matched nations. The tilt has become so severe, that the average jogger/runner has lost all contact with the exploits of their sport’s fastest purveyors as the running industry in the U.S. has settled on participation numbers, economic impact, and charitable contributions as their standards of excellence, speed be damned. (more…)
The tales of greatness are legion, some from this year of 2011 sure to become legend. Yet for all the running success that comes pouring out of East Africa, so, too, are there thousands more humbling stories of dreams stunted, and lives that fall victim to the vagaries of some unknown benevolence withheld.
Athlete agent Gerard van de Veen of Volare Sports in The Netherlands has seen both sides up close. His most famous athlete, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, stands at the very pinnacle of racing success as both Boston and New York City Marathon champion and course record setter in 2011. Mutai’s 2:03:02 in wind-blown Boston was the fastest marathon ever run.
Yet within the same Volare Sports stable for the last eight years was another Kenyan runner, Peter Kiprotich Cherus, whose times might not have challenged the great Mutai, (his PR was 2:08:49, Frankfurt 2007) but whose steadiness afforded him a place at the front of many a marathon as both a competitor and an invaluable and respected pacesetter. That reliability, in turn, afforded him a steady income as well.
In his time, Peter helped pace the great Ethiopian champion Haile Gebrselassie to his first marathon world record (2:04:26) at the 2007 Berlin Marathon. In his own name, Peter won important races in The Netherlands, Scotland, and Taiwan, winning the 2011 Kinmen Marathon this past January.
As with just about every top Kenyan athlete, the spoils of racing success were never purely for personal use, but rather were spread to family and friends whose cups were less full, talents less marketable, opportunities less available. Through his earnings, Peter Kiprotich took care of his wife, Shilla Jepchirchir, and their three children, eight year-old Brian Kimutai, and three year-old twins Eric Kipchumba and Marieke Jepchirchir. He also shared food, clothing, medical expenses, and school fees with the rest of his family, and knowing that young running talent required time to develop, Peter provided funds for training and rent money for stints at high altitude for several upcoming athletes.
This, then, was the relatively comfortable (and generous) life of a dedicated professional Kenyan runner. Not a top guy, for sure, but a journeyman who took his talent where it would show well and pay best. Peter Kiprotich Cherus had no illusions, no ill-considered dreams. For his children he saw a future that could well outstrip his own achievements. But dreams can come with a price in Kenya. The future is not a brightly lit road, but a darkly held secret, especially if one dreams at night out on the road. (more…)
Now in its sixth year, the WMMs concept has yet to turn into the public relations focal point for running that the FedEx Cup has for professional golf, or that the Chase for the Sprint Cup has for NASCAR. Yet, for the second straight cycle, the series has peaked nicely in the men’s division.
Of course, nobody who follows the sport will ever forget the epic duel between the now sadly departed Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Tsegay Kebede at the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The last 5K of that battle remains the standard by which all future final marathon miles will be judged. And a great part of the excitement was generated by the fact that the two tiny warriors were competing for a bonus anyone watching could appreciate, half a million dollars. In fact, the prize elevated not just the perception of the competition, it elevated the quality and passion of the competitors, as well.
It is one reason I have argued, ad nauseum, for larger publicly recognized purses or bonuses in our sport. How much one receives for any endeavor in this society either validates, or invalidates, that endeavor by how much one receives for the doing it. That might not be the path to heaven’s door, but it sure is the path to the American Dream. And if we want to attract not just participants, but fans to our sport, our champions must reap the same harvests as our sporting brethren. By maintaining low prize purses and hidden appearance fees, running all but guarantees an ignoring public, including our increasingly rotund kids. (more…)
Say what you will about the American trials system for Olympic selection, how it discounts consistency or past excellence for a one-day, all or nothing performance, but how would you like to see a Kenyan Olympic Trials Marathon? Now that might be a marathon I’d pay to view!
Think about the Kenyan men’s team for London 2012. You can’t keep Abel Kirui, the two-time World Champion off the squad, can you? Not after he destroyed the field in Daegu this August. And after Patrick Makau’s world record performance in Berlin today, giving the 2010 World #1 three wins in his last four marathons – his only loss a third in London this spring after he took a hard fall at 22k – he has to be chosen, right?
Which means either Boston champion and course record holder Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02), or London champion and course record holder EmmanuelMutai (2:04:40) isn’t going to make the cut! And that doesn’t even take into consideration three-time London champ and runner-up in 2011 Martin Lel, or Boston runner-up and track 30K world record holder Moses Mosop. And forget about relative old-timers like Duncan Kibet, James Kwambai, the two Robert Cheruiyots. But what about current killers like Wilson Kipsang (2:04:57, 1st, Frankfurt 2010), Wilson Chebet (debut winner in Rotterdam 2011, 2:05:27), and Vincent Kipruto (2nd in Rotterdam, 2:05;33)? How can they simply be dismissed? Then think of the guys like Sammy Kitwara who have yet to try a marathon, but are brutes in the half (PR 58:58), and who you know will be monsters in the full eventually? Talk about your embarrassment of riches!
But let’s wait till after this fall season, after Wilson Kipsang makes his defense in Frankfurt and Mosop and the Mutais show their wares, as well. Can you imagine the kind of performance it will take in Chicago or New York to stamp a visa for London?
And the women’s squad is no selector’s picnic, either. There’s 2011 world champion Edna Kiplagat. The Kenyen federation generally rewards those who run for the nation rather than rack up big city marathon wins. Recall that in 2000 the KAA kept that year’s Boston champion Catherine Ndereba off their Sydney squad even though she’d beaten defending Olympic champion and three-time Boston winner Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia. Instead they gave the nod to Ester Wanjiru who came in third place in Osaka at 2:23:31 just because that time was better than Ndereba’s in Boston. Ndereba heard about not making the team on the radio while waiting in line in a bank in Nairobi. Crazy.
So tell me how they can possibly keep 2011 London champion Mary Keitany off the squad now that she’s the second fastest Kenyan woman in history behind Catherine’s 2:18:47 from Chicago 2001? And today Florence Kiplagat delivered on her promise as World Half-Marathon champion and record holder with a 2:19:44 cruise job in Berlin, besting world record holder Paula Radcliffe (third in 2:23:47) and two-time World Marathon Majors series champ Irina Mikitenko of Germany (second in 2:22:18). How’s that for a top three?
That means women like Priscah Jeptoo and Sharon Cherop, the World Championships silver and bronze medalists ,may be on the outside looking in. And poor Catherine Ndereba, twice Olympic silver, and two-time World Champion is probably an afterthought again.
Please, Kenyan federation, forget the London Games. Stage a Kenyan-only marathon trials and let’s see if we can get Jim Lampley and the boxing boys from HBO to call it live on pay-per-view. Cause we’re not talking foot-racing, we are talking your heavyweight championship of the world!