Greatest marathons ever - by an oldtimer.
Wanjiru Bejing #1 by a hair over Steve Jones Chicago 85 - both of those were game changers. People forget Jones' run - and it's easy to do in an age of instant gratification - but everyone tough was there and gunning for him. Deek, Lopes, Kigen - and Jones ran them off his heels by 4 miles. Yeah, he barely missed the WR, but it was a statement of power that changed how people thought the marathon could be run. Sammy's win beats it because it was the Olympics, and all things being equal, championships trump. Again, no one thought 2:06 possible in that heat or air - Geb didn't even start because it was supposed to be so awful. And there's Sammy, just banging away at the end.
3rd is Joan Benoit- Samuelson - LA Olympics 84. Not just a game-changer in terms of race strategy - just a flat out indication of what women could do. Recall that there had never been a women's race longer than 3000 meters in the Olympics before. It was a huge moment in the sport, but go back and watch the race. At 3, Joan just accelerated and everyone let her go - a truly brave move. At 18, when everyone realized she was not coming back (remember, wshe was 3 months removed from knee surgery) I distinctly remember the cameras showing the faces of the others, Waitz, Kristiansen, Mota - there was just this "we're running for 2nd" look that was awesome.
4th Wanjiru-Kebede Chicago 2010. I was at the 40K mark and Sammy was exhausted - on fumes. Could see it in his eyes. To come back like he did was phenomenal. And yes, potentially the best race commentary ever did help.
5th Shorter 1972 Olympic marathon. Perhaps not the greatest race, but in terms of a game changer - it lead to the first running boom, which begat Nike, which begat the ability to earn a living at running, which indirectly leads to the fine website known as letsrun.
I'd venture to say Boston 2011 was more impressive than NY 2011 - perfect day or not - because of the competition at the end. There wasn't one at the end in NY 2011.
I do agree on one point. Never never ever could I imagine NY's course record being faster than Chicago. So if you argue G. Mutai is the greatest marathoner on the planet, I agree there as well.