Boston Marathon Releases Elite Field For 2011 And Meb Keflezighi Is Left Out And Controversy Simmers

By David Monti.
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

February 10, 2011 Editor's note: The author is an elite athlete consultant for the ING NYC Marathon

John Hancock Financial, the longtime supporter of the elite section of the Boston Marathon, announced today one of the event's strongest fields, including both defending champions, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot of Kenya and Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia.  By the numbers, the field includes 14 men who have broken 2:08 (seven with sub-2:07 times), and 15 women who have broken 2:27 (eight sub-2:24).

"This year's field once again is filled with outstanding runners who no doubt will provide the millions of spectators and viewers with yet another thrilling contest," said Hancock's sponsorship and event marketing chief Rob Friedman through a media release.  "We are counting down the days to April 18th."

But one runner those spectators and viewers won't see in Boston is 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medallist and 2009 ING New York City Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi of Mammoth Lakes, Calif..  Hours before the Boston announcement, Keflezighi, 35, posted a statement on his website expressing his disappointment at not being included in the Boston field this year.  He's run the race twice, finishing third in 2006 in 2:09:56 and fifth in 2010 in 2:09:26.

"Starting in July 2010, my team communicated consistent and serious interest to John Hancock's elite athlete coordinator about my competing in the 2011 Boston Marathon," Keflezighi's statement read.  "Unfortunately, though John Hancock's representative indicated there was a lot of interest in having me as part of the field and keeping the conversation alive until late January, no offer was made. It's not that I’m not getting what I want, it's that John Hancock did not make me an offer at all."

The process of recruiting athletes for major marathons is a delicate and expensive one, especially for the events of the World Marathon Majors (WMM), the family of the sport's five top commercial marathons, of which Boston is a member.  There is a far greater number of qualified athletes than any one of the WMM races can afford (top athletes receive payments to participate called appearance fees), so each event sets their recruiting priorities by usually focusing on a key group of stars, then expanding to a supporting cast of lesser quality athletes.  Inevitably, there are disappointments on both sides.

But while it is not unusual for an organizer to skip over an athlete and not make an offer, it is unusual for a top athlete not to receive one from a major race within his own country should he want to compete.  Keflezighi said that he was not being difficult, but just wanted to know where he stood.

"As much as I respect the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon, I would have accepted any reasonable offer," his statement continued.

Keflezighi said on Tuesday in a media teleconference organized by the New York Road Runners in advance of next month's NYC Half-Marathon in which he will be competing, that he would not be running Boston, but instructed reporters that his reasons would not be unveiled until today on his website.  This reporter cannot recall another incident where a top athlete publicly called out an organizer for not inviting him to a race.

Boston organizers remained tight-lipped today.  When reached for comment, Roy Anderson, vice-president of corporate communications for John Hancock would only provide a terse statement.  "It is our policy not to comment on athlete negotiations," Anderson said in an e-mail message to Race Results Weekly.

Amongst the athletes who will be running Boston, there are several American stars whom John Hancock Financial had previously announced.  They include 2007 world championships 10,000m bronze medallist, Kara Goucher of Portland, Ore. (2:25:52 PB); the fastest American woman at the marathon distance in 2010, Desiree Davila of Rochester Hills, Mich. (2:26:20); and the USA half-marathon record holder Ryan Hall of Big Bear Lake, Calif. (2:06:17).  Goucher finished third at Boston in 2009, and Hall finished third in 2009 and fourth in 2010.  Hall is the fastest American ever at Boston with his 2:08:41 in last year's race.

The core of the Boston field comes from Africa's two powerhouse marathoning nations, Kenya and Ethiopia.  In addition to defending champions Cheruiyot and Erkesso, the Boston field features Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai (2:05:55 PB), Gilbert Yegon (2:06:18), Evans Cheruiyot (2:06:25), Sylvester Tiemet (2:06:49), Sharon Cherop (2:22:43), Salina Kosgei (2:23:22), Caroline Kilel (2:23:25), and Alice Timbilili (2:25:03) and Ethiopians Tadese Tola (2:06:31), Bekana Daba (2:07:04), Tekeste Kebede (2:07:23), Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene (2:22:44), Merima Mohammed (2:23:06), and Dire Tune (2:23:44).  Both Kosgei (2009) and Tune (2008) are Boston Marathon champions.

As for Keflezighi, he was clearly unhappy about the situation.  "I'm really disappointed not to get an offer because I really thought that I could do something special on April 18 for the race, for U.S. distance running, and, yes, for myself and my family," he wrote.  "But my brother Hawi, who is a lawyer and my manager, and I always try to accept disappointment and setbacks with the dignity and respect that our parents instilled in us.  We recognize that we have been extremely fortunate to be citizens of this great country, to represent a great sport, and to have had such wonderful support from friends, coaches, sponsors, and fellow competitors, and we always try to be worthy role models for young people here and around the world. We are already looking past Boston to the next opportunity."


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