Three Thoughts On 2015 Boston: Who Has A Better Shot At Victory – Meb Or Shalane? How Does It Compare To London? Could We Have A “Wild Card” Winner?

by Robert Johnson and Jonathan Gault
January 20, 2015

The full elite fields for the 2015 Boston Marathon came out this morning (the U.S. field had previously been announced two weeks ago) thanks to John Hancock. Below, we give you the three initial thoughts we have about the field.

Discuss the 2015 Boston marathon in our forum: 2015 Boston international field announced – Meb will have his hands full with 5 sub-2:05, 10 sub-2:07 guys!!!

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1) Boston secured a very solid field, but make no mistake, this field is no equal to London.

The elite international fields that came out today are both certainly worth of a World Marathon Major.

On the men’s side, Boston was able to lock up five sub-2:05 guys and another guy, two-time world champion Abel Kirui, who has run 2:05:04. There are four other guys who have gone sub-2:07 in their careers (10 total sub-2:07 guys) plus studs like defending champ Meb Keflezighi and world half marathon record holder Zersenay Tadese.

Five sub-2:05 guys sounds incredibly impressive doesn’t it? Well consider this, the 2015 London field has seven guys in it who went sub-2:05 in 2014 alone (and an eighth who did it in 2012) while no one in the Boston field went sub-2:05 in 2014.

2015 Boston Elites
Patrick Makau, 2:03:38 (Berlin, 2011), Kenya
Lelisa Desisa, 2:04:45 (Dubai, 2013), Ethiopia
Yemane Tsegay, 2:04:48 (Rotterdam, 2012), Ethiopia
Tadese Tola, 2:04:49 (Dubai, 2013), Ethiopia
Gebregziabher Gebremariam, 2:04:53 (Boston, 2011), Ethiopia
Abel Kirui, 2:05:04 (Rotterdam, 2009), Kenya
Wilson Chebet, 2:05:27 (Rotterdam, 2011), Kenya
Frankline Chepkwony, 2:06:11 (Eindhoven, 2012), Kenya
Wesley Korir, 2:06:13 (Chicago, 2012), Kenya
Bernard Kipyego, 2:06:22 (Amsterdam, 2014), Kenya
Abderrahime Bouramdane, 2:07:33 (Lon., 2010), Mor.
Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:07:47 (Chicago, 2012), USA
Lusapho April, 2:08:32 (Hannover, 2013), SA
Meb Keflezighi, 2:08:37 (Boston, 2014), USA
Vitaliy Shafar, 2:09:37 (Boston, 2014), Ukraine
Zersenay Tadese, 2:10:41 (London, 2012), Eritrea
Dylan Wykes, 2:10:47 (Rotterdam, 2012), Canada
Jeffrey Eggleston, 2:10:52 (Gold Coast, 2014), USA
Nicholas Arciniaga, 2:11:30 (Houston, 2011), USA
Fernando Cabada, 2:11:36 (Berlin, 2014), USA

Mare Dibaba, 2:19:52 (Xiamen, 2015), Ethiopia
Buzunesh Deba, 2:19:59 (Boston, 2014), Ethiopia
Aberu Kebede, 2:20:30 (Berlin, 2012), Ethiopia
Shalane Flanagan, 2:21:14 (Berlin, 2014), USA
Aleksandra Duliba, 2:21:29 (Boston, 2014), Belarus
Mamitu Daska, 2:21:59 (Frankfurt, 2011), Ethiopia
Ejegayehu Dibaba, 2:22:09 (Chicago, 2011), Ethiopia
Sharon Cherop, 2:22:28 (Berlin, 2013), Kenya
Caroline Kilel, 2:22:34 (Frankfurt, 2013), Kenya
Desiree Davila Linden, 2:22:38 (Boston, 2011), USA
Caroline Rotich, 2:23:22 (Chicago, 2012), Kenya
Marisa Barros, 2:25:04 (Yokohama, 2011), Portugal
Lisa Stublic Nemec, 2:25:44 (Zurich, 2013), Croatia
Amy Hastings, 2:27:03 (Chicago, 2014), USA
Joyce Chepkirui, 2:30:23 (Honolulu, 2014), Kenya
Cynthia Limo, Debut, Kenya

Boston is banking on guys like former world record holder Patrick Makau (whose 2:08:22 win in Fukuoka in December was his first good marathon in over two years) and Kirui (whose best finish since taking Olympic silver was sixth in Amsterdam last year) regaining their old form to make it a competitive race, or maybe Zersenay Tadese finally figures out the marathon.

Going by our year-end rankings (men; women), London features seven of the 10 best men in 2014 and and five of the 10 best women. Boston has just one of our top 10 men from 2014 (#7 Meb Keflezighi) and two women (#2 Mare Dibaba and #6 Buzunesh Deba).

Relative to the men’s field, the women’s field in Boston is superior and not that far behind London. London boasts seven sub-2:22 women while Boston has six with another at 2:22:09. Boston also secured major winners in Mare Dibaba (Chicago) and Buzunesh Deba (Boston), each of whom finished second behind drug cheat Rita Jeptoo last year but should be elevated to first if and when Jeptoo is stripped of her titles.

2. Who has the easier path to victory: Meb Keflezighi or Shalane Flanagan?

Jonathan Gault: The answer here is probably Meb. Both Flanagan and Keflezighi had career years in 2014. Meb won Boston in a PR 2:08:37 while Flanagan PR’d in Boston by 3:36 (down to 2:22:02) and proceeded to knock an additional 48 seconds off her best later in the year in Berlin. The difference is that Meb’s performances produced far better results than Flanagan’s — Meb won Boston while Flanagan was only seventh (sixth minus Jeptoo); Flanagan was third in Berlin compared to Meb’s fourth in New York, but the New York men’s field was much stronger than the Berlin women’s field.

To win Boston in 2015, Flanagan will have to overcome three women who beat her soundly last year in Deba, Dibaba and Belarus’ Aleksandra Duliba. You can make the argument that Flanagan might have been able to beat one or all of them last year with a less aggressive race plan, but running conservatively isn’t part of Flanagan’s DNA. If she’s in the race, she’s likely going to be toward the front pushing the pace. That sort of strategy can work if you’re the fastest woman in the field, but Flanagan is only fourth by PR, and unlike the men’s field, those PRs aren’t dated; Dibaba ran 2:19:52 less than three weeks ago in Xiamen, while Deba’s 2:19:59 comes from Boston last year (and is the rightful course record).

What American Men Had Been Dreaming of Doing for 31 Years

What American Men Had Been Dreaming of Doing for 31 Years *2014 Boston Photo Gallery

On the men’s side, Keflezighi had the best year of any of the 2015 Boston entrants (Lelisa Desisa beat him in New York in November but he was a DNF when Meb won Boston in April) and unlike Flanagan, Keflezighi wouldn’t have to reach an entirely new level to prevail in Boston. Of course, it’s very unlikely that 2015 Boston plays out the way 2014 Boston did (when the field let Meb go at eight miles). But the way I see it, there are fewer sure things in the men’s race than the women’s. I think Desisa should be the favorite and Chebet ran well enough in 2014 (second in Boston, first in Honolulu) that he is likely to perform well in Boston as well. But after that, there’s no one I look at and say, “Wow, I’m really worried about him.”

Robert Johnson: When I read that Jonathan thinks Meb has a better shot at victory than Shalane, I tried to do some real quick math in my head and figure out if it was possible he was still somehow intoxicated from celebrating Sunday’s AFC Championship by his beloved New England Patriots.

The 2015 Boston women’s field is certainly better at the very top as the 2015 Boston men’s field is filled with many former marathon stars as compared to the current stars on the women’s side. Yes, Shalane has to beat two very good runners in who have recently gone sub-2:20 in Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba, but Shalane is one of the best female distance runners on the planet. If those two are off their game, she’s got a legitimate shot at victory. Yes, last year she blew up after going out aggressively, but this year she won’t have to drop someone doped to the gills with EPO.

I know Meb won Boston in 2014 but here are the facts. He’s 39, almost 40 (birthday May 5), and wouldn’t have won last year if the international men’s field hadn’t totally discounted him and spotted him roughly 90 seconds. Meb can only win if a) He gets help from the other elites with an early lead like last year or b) More than five guys have a bad day. Shalane only needs help from a few people.

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Zersenay Tadese after winning World Half Marathon in 2009 *More 2009 World Half-Marathon Photos

Zersenay Tadese after winning World Half Marathon Champs in 2009
*More 2009 World Half-Marathon Photos

3) Lots of “wildcards” on the men’s side led by Zersaney Tadese

The 2015 Boston men’s field is interesting as it features quite a few “wildcards.” Above, we wondered whether Patrick Makau’s 2:08 win in Fukuoka in December is a sign he’s getting back to the form that saw him set the WR in 2011. He is still just 29 after all.

Additionally, we think running Boston is a real smart move for two-time world champ and Olympic silver medallist Abel Kirui. Despite his 2:05:04 pb, running time trials isn’t Kirui’s claim to fame. Excelling in non-rabbitted races is what he does best so it will be interesting to see if that continues in Boston. It should be pointed out out that Kirui’s two world titles, while obviously coming in non-rabbitted races, did come on flat courses in Daegu (2011) and Berlin (2009). His Olympic silver (London 2012) also came on a flat course.

But the ultimate wildcard in the field is Eritrean Zersenay Tadese. The half-marathon world record holder has been a spectacular failure at the 26.2 distance:

Zerseney Tadese’s Marathons

2009 London – DNF
2010 London – 7th in 2:12:03
2012 London – 14th in 2:10:41
2013 Chicago – DNF  

Given his 13.1 WR, one would think Tadese would excel in fast, rabbited marathons but switching it up and running the hilly Boston course makes sense. Doing the same thing over and over (running rabbited marathons) and expecting a different result is the definition of stupidity, isn’t it?

There’s reason to believe Boston could be good for Tadese. We’ve always felt great xc runners should excel on the the difficult Boston course – it’s hard to get in a rhythm in xc and it’s hard to get in a rhythm in Boston. Tadese was the 2007 world xc champ.

A breakthrough in marathon #5 some six years after his debut might be a longshot, but it should be known that for some, great success in the marathon is something that takes time to learn. In the first nine marathons of the career of South African Hendrick Ramaala, he finished in the top five only twice (both times fifth) and only broke 2:10 twice (2:08:58 was his fastest at the time). His 10th marathon was a 2:15 win in Mumbai but his 11th was a win in New York.

More: Discuss this race in our forum: 2015 Boston international field announced – Meb will have his hands full with 5 sub-2:05, 10 sub-2:07 guys!!!
*Archives: 2014 Boston Coverage: LRC The American Drought Is Over: Meb Keflezighi Wins The 2014 Boston Marathon
*American Strong: The Untold Story of American Teamwork and How Ryan Hall Helped Meb Keflezighi Win Boston This story went viral and was ready by nearly 200,000 people.