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Robert Cheruiyot: The Best Marathoner in the World?
by: LetsRun.com
April 23, 2008

After Robert Cheruiyot won his 4th Boston, some (including us) surmised whether he is the best marathoner in the world. Clearly, the best is either him, three-time London champ, Martin Lel, or the world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie. Gebrselassie, has never triumphed versus a very competitive field, so if we're talking about the world's best competitive marathoner (not time trialer), we think he has to be thrown out.

So Lel or Cheruiyot? That's what we asked in our post-race recap of 2008 Boston.

Both Lel and Cheruiyot are 29. Both have 5 world major victories. Thus on paper it seems like it's a tough call.

However, after having taken some time to look at it, we've determined it's impossible to say Cheruiyot is the top guy in the world - due to the weaker fields he's faced in Boston.  In some ways, the book is still out on Cheruiyot as he has usually not beaten the top marathoners in the world when he's gotten his "major" wins.

Robert Cheruiyot
Robert Cheruiyot Wins His 4th Boston
(photo by photorun.net)

Four of Cheruiyot's five majors have come in Boston which certainly isn't equal to London or even New York in terms of the quality of the fields. Martin Lel has won the world's top marathon London three times and New York twice. As a result, Martin Lel has to be considered the top marathoner in the world currently.

The fact of the matter is, if Abderrahim Goumri was racing against the fields Cheruiyot was up against he'd be undefeated in his marathon career with 3 Marathon Major wins (instead Goumri has lost London twice and NY once over the final half mile). Cheruiyot has shown he is a winner, but the question is still out as to whether he would still have the same record if he was truly racing the world's best each time out. This year he put on an exhibition but against a cast of characters trying to prove they belong in the major leagues.

Let's look at Cheruiyot's last 4 major wins starting with Boston 2006.

Boston 2006, guess who the pre-race favorite was?  American Meb Kelfezighi (although we at LetsRun.com predicted Cheruiyot would win). Meb has had a great career, he has an Olympic medal and he's a great racer but he's never run faster than 2:09:53. The fact that he was the favorite shows you how watered down the field was.

Cheruiyot's lone non-Boston win came in Chicago in 2006. Now Chicago is the 2nd most difficult major to win outside of London (but we must say it seems like NY continues to be closing fast). If you take a look back at Chicago 2006, Cheruiyot got the win, but Felix Limo, who was then considered the top marathoner in the world, pulled out the week of the race. Here are the results showing who Cheruiyot beat.

1. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, KEN, 2:07:35
 2. Daniel Njenga, KEN, 2:07:40
 3. Jimmy Muindi, KEN, 2:07:51
 4. Abdi Abdirahman, USA, 2:08:56 PB
 5. Robert Cheboror, KEN, 2:09:25
 6. Brian Sell, USA, 2:10:47
 7. Japhet Kosgei, KEN, 2:11:37
 8. Ben Maiyo, KEN, 2:11:53
 9. Dejene Berhaun, ETH, 2:12:27
10. Meshack Kosgei Kirwa, KEN, 2:12:31

Clearly a quality win, but this year in London five ran 2:06:17 or faster and 7 broke 2:09.

Go forward another 5 months to last year's Boston. Here are the top 10 finishers.

1. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, 28, KEN          2:14:13  $100,000
2. James Kwambai, 24, KEN                      2:14:33    40,000
3. Stephen Kiogora, 32, KEN                    2:14:47    22,500
 4. James Koskei, 38, KEN                       2:15:05    18,000
5. Teferi Wodajo, 25, ETH                      2:15:06    14,000
6. Benjamin Maiyo, 28, KEN                     2:16:04    12,000
7. Ruggero Pertile, 32, ITA                    2:16:08     9,000
8. Peter Gilmore, 29, San Mateo, CA            2:16:41     7,400
 9. Samuel Ndereba, 30, KEN                     2:17:04     5,700
10. Robert Cheboror, 28, KEN                    2:18:07     4,200

Robert Cheruiyot and 
a Guy You Had Never Heard
 Of Until Monday 
2nd placer Abderrahime Bouramdane

Hardly full of the top guys in the world. After a loss in Chicago in the fall, Cheruiyot was back in Boston this year. This year's field, with the withdrawal of Chicago champ, Ivuti was perhaps the weakest we can ever remember in Boston. Cheruiyot ran extremely, extremely impressively, and won quite convincingly but he should have versus that field.

It's may not be fair to compare running the final miles at Boston to running the final miles at London as Cheruiyot was all alone and the London course is relatively flat, but it's hard for us to imagine Cheruiyot winning in London by running over 5 minutes a mile the final 4 miles if he was racing against this field: Sammy Wanjiru, Martin Lel, Felix Limo, Abderrahim Goumri, Ryan Hall, Luke Kibet, etc. Those are the guys Lel defeated in London this year.

The field Lel defeated in London last year was equally stacked as it's a whose who of marathoning talent. We think most letsrunners didn't have a clue as to who any of the guys in the Boston field this year were outside of Cheruiyot.
1. Martin Lel (Ken) 2:07:41
2. Abderrahim Goumri (Mor) 2:07:44
3. Felix Limo (Ken) 2:07:47
4. Jaouad Gharib (Mor) 2:07:54
5. Hendrick Ramaala (SA) 2:07:56
6. Paul Tergat (Ken) 2:08:05
7. Ryan Hall (US) 2:08:24
8. Marilson dos Santos (Bzl) 2:08:37
(Check out the special LetsRun.com Special 2008 London Marathon Section)

Below we give you all of Lel's and Cheruiyot's marathons since 2003 - the year they picked up their first major wins. We determined a winner each year for the year.  Lel is up on our scorecards 3-1 with two draws although we could easily argue it's 4-1-1 for Lel.

Comparing Robert Cheruiyot and Martin Lel's Marathon Performances Since 2003

Robert Cheruiyot

Martin Lel

2:07:46 - 1st in Boston

2:05:15 - 1st in London

Edge Lel simply because he won London

2:16:13 - 4th in Chicago
2:14:13 - 1st in Boston

2:09:04 - 1st in New York
2:07:41 - 1st in London
Edge Lel.

2:07:35 - 1st in Chicago
2:07:14 - 1st in Boston
Edge Cheruiyot. His best year ever.

2:06:41 - 2nd in London

2:11:01 - 4th in NYC
2:14:30 - 5th in Boston

2:07:26 - 1st in London
Edge Lel

2:14:23 - 12th In Chicago
2:12:14 - 3rd in Prague
Equally unimpressive. Call it a draw.

2:13:38 - 3rd in Boston

Equally unimpressive. Call it a draw.

2:11:11 - 3rd in Milan
2:10:11 - 1st in Boston
Call it a draw given Cheruiyot's head to head win.

2:10:30 - 1st in New York
2:11:11 - 3rd in Boston
Call it a draw given Cheruiyot's head to head win.

Overall: Lel 3-1-2. Although this year is incomplete.

More importantly, Lel has been on fire since the start of 2007 (undefeated with 2 London wins), so Lel currently has to be considered  the top marathoner in the world. However, it it's interesting to note that in their one head-to-head matchup, that it was Cheruiyot who beat Lel. But that was way back in 2003. Martin Lel really emerged in 2007.

We certainly hope to get to see them square off this summer in Beijing so they can settle the matter once and for all. Of course, by then a young upstart like Sammy Wanjiru may put them in the rearview mirror.

Video: Cheruiyot himself has perhaps the best quote on why Boston and John Hancock (their sponsorship deal runs through 2018) need to come up with more cash.. He says, "It is very difficult when you are running alone. You can not run alone and run 2:07 in Boston. You need company." 10 minute video below.

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