Edna Kiplagat hasn’t run a marathon in two years. Lelisa Desisa ran in the Olympic steambath in Sapporo this summer and dropped out. So how will the two favorites and former champions fare in the 125th Boston Marathon on Monday morning? Who can say, in a year when the planet’s most fabled footrace is being held in the autumn for the first time after an unprecedented hiatus?
Most of the contenders here were idled by the COVID pandemic last year when four of the six global majors were canceled. This fall five of them have been jammed into six weeks and thus far the form sheet hasn’t counted for much.
The two winners in Berlin last month, Ethiopia’s Guye Adola and Gotytom Gebreslase, both were making their marathon debuts. Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, the Olympic silver medalist and world record-holder who was going for her third consecutive London crown, ended up fourth there, nearly a minute off the winning time.
Neither of Boston’s defending champions from 2019 — Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono and Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa — are returning. Cherono, who was fourth at the Games, wasn’t ready for another 26-miler so soon and Degefa recently gave birth. So choosing favorites from fast and deep fields is more challenging than usual with eight men in the mix who’ve broken 2 hours and 6 minutes and five women who’ve gone under 2:21.
Ethiopia’s Asefa Mengstu, who has the top personal best (2:04:06) among the men, will be running Boston for the first time. So the advantage could go to his countryman Desisa, the reigning world champion who knows every twist and turn from Hopkinton to Copley Square.
“Boston is always in my heart,” said Desisa (2:04:45), who won here in 2013 and 2015 and was second in 2016 and 2019. If he prevails against a field that includes former champion Lemi Berhanu (2:04:33), Benson Kipruto (2:05:13), Wilson Chebet (2:05:27), Filex Kiprotich (2:05:33), Dejene Debela (2:05:46), and Kelkile Gezahegn (2:05:56), he’ll be the first Ethiopian male to win here three times. “It is amazing,” Desisa said. “I come this year to try for this. I win two times easily, not difficult. If I win three, I would do history here.”
Boston is a race that rewards familiarity with its unique topography. “Every time you do it you learn something a little bit different,” observed Desiree Linden, the 2018 women’s victor who’s making her eighth start here. “The more times you get on it the better you get at it. You look at a PR from Dubai or Tokyo and they don’t really mean too much in Boston.”
Kiplagat, the grande dame of the road at 41, has a glittering résumé. Two world titles plus victories in London, New York, and Boston, where she won in 2017 and was runner-up in 2019. “Edna just knows how to win here,” said Linden. “In my mind if she’s healthy I’d put her as the favorite right away.”
Kiplagat, who hasn’t run the distance since she finished fourth in the 2019 world championships and didn’t run at all last year, will be up against three other women who’ve broken the tape in Copley Square — Caroline Rotich (2015), Atsede Baysa (2016), and Linden, plus Mare Dibaba, the Ethiopian former world champion and Rio medalist who has won in Chicago and was runner-up here in 2015.
“Coming back again is a great opportunity for me to race with the best athletes from all over the world,” said Kiplagat. “This year I am looking to run my best here. I am feeling fit because I have run two short races and was doing well. So I trust and hope to run well on Monday.”
The top domestic challengers are Linden, the Olympic alternate who won her crown here in wretched weather three years ago and Jordan Hasay, the third-fastest American in history (2:20:57) who’s been third here twice.
“Boston is my absolute favorite marathon,” said Hasay, who ran in Valencia in December as a tuneup for this one. After 30 months without seeing the Hancock on the horizon, the Boylston Street Regulars are desperate to let loose. “We have all this pent-up energy and excitement from not having it last year,” Hasay said. “It’s a nice celebration for everyone.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.