It almost feels weird, thinking about the upcoming Boston Marathon on the first anniversary of the moment when the 117-year-old event became the stage for a barbarous bombing that left three dead and 260 injured. It especially feels weird thinking about the 118th edition of the world’s oldest annual marathon knowing that the police have taken a man into custody after two suspiciously unattended backpacks were found near the finish line on Tuesday, the site where the city had held memorials those killed and injured last year.
Deja vu can be an ugly thing, but it can also be an uplifting thing. That’s where sports come into play. The fact remains that the city of Boston showed its resilience in the face of that adversity, and so too will the marathon itself. The police dealt with today’s incident admirably, detonating the bags without harm and detaining a suspect on site. Nobody was injured.
With the improved safety measures that have been instituted for this year’s running of the Boston Marathon, and the heightened sense of caution that will inevitably result from today’s incident on Boylston Street, the largest crowd of this century is slated to toe the starting line in Hopkinton next Monday in a show of defiant perseverance. And because the deja vu of sports — the rhythmic churn of putting one leg in front of the other and just letting one’s feet take him or her on a 26-mile odyssey — is one of its most endearing and enduring charms, let’s gear up for what should be not just a memorable event but also a hotly-contested one.
The Essential Information
- WHAT?: It’s a marathon, meaning that runners travel along a 26.2-mile route; for those of you who like to think in metric, that is 42.2 kilometers, give or take a few meters here or there
- WHEN?: Monday, April 21, 2014; the waves of runners will start at 8:50 am Eastern, with the elite field of the top 50 women leaving Hopkinton at 9:32 am and the top 50 men and the first wave of public participants leaving at 10:00 am
WHERE?: The 26.2-mile marathon course starts on Main Street in Hopkinton and runs east-northeast through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before finishing on Boylston Street in the heart of Boston
- WHO?: In addition to 50 of the top female and 50 of the top male marathon runners in the world, the field at the 118th edition of the Boston Marathon will include a projected 36,000 public participants at the starting line; it will be the largest crowd to start the race since the centennial edition in 1996
- WHY?: What an esoteric question… because they’ve been lining up for 118 years and running along these same roads, because it offers a connection with the history of a sport and a place, and because perseverance is of utmost importance — in both marathon running and in life — and what are sports if not life lessons?
And so we get to talking about who might actually win this year’s race. Which name from the elite fields of men and women is going to emerge from the pack to claim the title of Boston Marathon champion?
On the women’s side, it all starts with the defending champion. After winning in Boston last year, Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo followed up with another huge win at October’s Chicago Marathon. Her performance in the Windy City was a personal best, as Jeptoo finished three seconds under 2:20.
She’ll be pushed in her bid to repeat by compatriots Caroline Kilel, Sharon Cherop, and Jemima Jelagat Sumgong. Kilel is the 2011 Boston Marathon champion, Cherop the 2012 champion, and Sumgong the runner up behind Cherop in 2012 and behind Jeptoo in Chicago last fall. Look out as well for Meseret Hailu of Ethiopia, who finished runner-up to Jeptoo on this course last spring.
American fans hoping for see somebody trump the Africans that have dominated the race in recent decades will have to look to Desiree Linden, the current American women’s record holder on the course (whose personal best on the course would have won last year’s race), and 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trial champion Shalane Flanagan.
Notable in their absence on the women’s side are several winners of recent marathons — Edna Kiplagat of Kenya, who won last weekend’s London Marathon; Ethiopia’s Tirfi Tsegaye, who took the Tokyo Marathon in February; Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo (unrelated to Rita), who won in New York last November; and Florence Kiplagat, also Kenyan, who was the winner in Berlin in September.
On the men’s side, there is a ton of talent — but little in the way of former Boston winners — to challenge defending champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia in his bid to repeat on this course. Desisa preceded his Boston Marathon victory in 2014 with one of the fastest debuts ever at the distance as he won the 2013 Dubai Marathon, and followed it up with a silver medal at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
Who will challenge Desisa? Look out first for Dennis Kimetto, the Kenyan who lost his debut in Boston in 2011 by one second behind winner (and course record holder) Geoffrey Mutai but has gone on to set new course records at the Tokyo Marathon in 2012 (since broken) and at the Chicago Marathon he won last October.
Other threats include Kenya’s Micah Kogo, who lost by five seconds to Desisa last year in his Boston debut; Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia, who has twice reached the podium in Boston and previously won the New York Marathon; and Wilson Chebet, the Kenyan who is among the rare marathon specialists ever to win four marathons in sub-2:06 times.
Americans have hope as well from the trio of Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, and Jason Hartmann. Hall’s 2:04:58 time in 2011 stands as the American record on the Boston course, and the runner is healthy after several down years. Keflezighi is a former podium finisher in Boston and a New York City Marathon champion as well as an Olympic silver medalist. Hartmann is another interesting case, having finished fourth each of the past two years.