The Kenyans and Ethiopians will play a full five-on-five in Monday’s Boston Marathon men’s race, which delights Ethiopia’s Geb Gebremariam, who’ll take even odds any day.
“Last year I was alone,” says Gebremariam, who was third here two years ago behind Kenyan rivals Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop. “To do teamwork and to help each other, more than two or three athletes are important. So we are five this year and we have a chance to do teamwork.”
Besides Deriba Merga, who won here in 2009, Gebremariam will have Dubai victor Lelisa Desisa, Markos Geneti, and Raji Assefa.
That’s the only storm warning the Kenyans need.
“It will be a challenge for us Kenyans,” acknowledges Wesley Korir, who led a podium sweep for his homeland last year. “How are we going to run? Are we going to run as individuals or as a team? I was telling the guys, I have run with Ethiopians and every time there are more than three you have to be careful.”
For wingmen Korir will have 2010 champion Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, last year’s runner-up Levy Matebo, Dickson Chumba, and Micah Kogo. Korir, who spent his off-road time during the winter getting elected to the Kenyan parliament, understands that he’ll be running for his country in a different sense this time.
“The difference between being a politician and being an athlete is everything you do, you don’t do it for yourself anymore,” he says. “Everything you do, you do it for your country and you do it for your people. So I have to represent my people well.”
Korir, who went to Louisville on a track scholarship and is married to Canadian runner Tarah McKay, made a point by campaigning as an independent in a country that went through a wrenching civil war half a dozen years ago and still is riven by partisanship.
“I wanted to show the Kenyans that you can elect somebody for what he is, not for what party he is in,” he says. “We got independence 59 years ago but now we are colonized by party politics.” Korir, who is a permanent United States resident, has put his pursuit of citizenship on hold. “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it,” he says. “I have to have full undivided attention toward serving my people.”
If recent history is any guide the women’s race will come down to a dash and there’ll be a new champion. The last five finishes have been the closest ever — one second in 2009 (Salina Kosgei and Dire Tune), two seconds in 2012 (Sharon Cherop and Jemima Jelagat Sumgong), 2011 (Caroline Kilel and Desiree Davila), and 2008 (Tune and Alevtina Biktimirova), and three seconds in 2010 (Teyba Erkesso and Tatyana Pushkareva). No titlist has repeated since Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba won her fourth crown in 2005 . . . If Korir and Cherop retain their crowns they’ll vault to the top of the World Marathon Majors standings. Korir, who earned 26 points last year by winning Boston and finishing fifth in Chicago, is third behind Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede and Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, who are tied with 35 and are running in London next weekend. Cherop, who picked up her 25 here, is in a five-way tie behind Kenyan leader Mary Keitany, who’s pregnant with her second child and will bypass the season.
After the aberrant conditions of the last two races Monday’s forecast calls for more seasonable weather — morning temperatures rising through the 40s, partly cloudy skies, and minimal wind. That’ll be a welcome relief from last year’s mid-80s sweatfest. “Last year was very bad, terrible,” recalled Gebremariam, who slogged home in 14th place. In 2011 a screaming tailwind airlifted everyone, enabling Geoffrey Mutai to chop nearly three minutes off the course record and set a world-best of 2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds . . . Maryland resident Ben Beach, who leads the “streaker” list with 45 consecutive Boston finishes, will break the global record for all marathons that he shares with Neil Weygandt if he goes the distance Monday, as he has every year since he was a Harvard freshman in 1968. “I think the prospects are good,” says the 63-year-old Beach, whose 17 sub-2:40 finishes here are matched only by John “The Elder” Kelley. “Of course, a lot can happen in the course of 26 miles, 385 yards, especially at my age.” Beach made his debut in a day when obtaining a starting number meant talking your way past Jock Semple, the race’s skeptical Scottish gatekeeper. “What makes ye think ye can rrrun 26 miles?” Semple asked Beach when he answered the phone. “I’m not sure I had much of an answer for him,” Beach recalls. “I hadn’t run more than 5 miles, I had never been on a cross-country team, and I had never run a road race.”
History of BAA
While the Boston Marathon has been amply chronicled in any number of books, not so the founding Boston Athletic Association, which was established in 1887. Now comes “The B.A.A. at 125”, the organization’s official history, written by John Hanc with a preface by Matt Damon, and issued by Sports Publishing. The book includes more than 100 rare photos from the association’s archives . . . What do race organizers have in place to minister to the walking wounded in Copley Square? Forty defibrillators, 26 oxygen tanks, 25 EKG machines, 150 blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes, 80 thermometers, 20 ice immersion tubs, 900 intravenous bags, 500 emesis basins, 380 cots, 500 sick bags, 4,000 Band-Aids, 2,000 tubes of antibiotic ointment, 2,000 pairs of medical gloves, 1,500 blankets, 2,000 adhesive bandages, 1,500 gauze pads, 500 tongue depressors, 250 rolls of moleskin, 175 Ace bandages, 200 bottles of antiseptic handwash, 500 bags of ice, 500 tubes of petroleum jelly, and 400 towels.John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.