2015 Boston Marathon International Men’s Preview: Which Of These Men Will Snap The American Win Streak At One?

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By LetsRun.com
April 15, 2015

After appetizers last weekend in cities such as Paris, Rotterdam, Vienna and Milan, it’s time for the main course of the spring marathon season. Next week (Monday) begins in Hopkinton with the 119th running of the Boston Marathon and finishes at Buckingham Palace with the world’s most competitive marathon – the 35th Virgin Money London Marathon (Sunday). Both races should be fantastic.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll spend thousands of words previewing and analyzing each race. We begin today with the international men’s field in Boston, which is headlined by former world record holder Patrick Makau (2:03:38 pb) of Kenya and 2013 Boston and Dubai champion Lelisa Desisa (2:04:45 pb, also 2013 WC and 2014 NY runner-up) of Ethiopia. In all, there are five men who have broken 2:05 for the marathon, and five more who have broken 2:07. In addition to Makau and Desisa, last year’s runner-up Wilson Chebet returns (2:05:27 pb, 4 times under 2:06), along with 2012 champ Wesley Korir (2:06:13 pb) and 2010 NYC champ Gebre Gebremariam (2:04:53 pb) of Ethiopia. Two-time world champion Abel Kirui (2:05:04 pb) and half marathon world record holder Zersenay Tadese are two other big names entered in Boston.

Of course Americans such as defending champ Meb KeflezighiDathan Ritzenhein and Nick Arciniaga will be running as well. We’ll get to them later this week in a separate article. The main details for Boston are listed below, followed by a comprehensive breakdown of the international men’s field.

What: 119th Boston Marathon

When: Monday, April 20, 2015. Elite women start at 9:32 a.m. ET; elite men start at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Where: Hopkinton to Boston, Massachusetts

How to watchLive on Universal Sports Network or UniversalSports.com starting at 8:30 a.m ET. Those who don’t subscribe to Universal Sports can also watch live online at watchlive.baa.org. In Boston, WBZ4 will provide local coverage. Universal Sports will also have an hour-long preview show on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.

Prize money (amount is the same for men’s and women’s races)

1st: $150,000                           6th: $12,000                       11th: $2,600
2nd: $75,000                           7th: $9,000                         12th: $2,100
3rd: $40,000                           8th: $7,400                         13th: $1,800
4th: $25,000                           9th: $5,700                          14th: $1,700
5th: $15,000                           10th: $4,200                        15th: $1,500

Abbott World Marathon Majors

Boston is one of six Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) events (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York). AWMM changed its scoring system earlier this year (previously, champions were crowned over a two-year cycle; now the cycle is one year plus one race). Currently we are in AWMM Series IX, with the standings as follows after one race (Tokyo):

1. Endeshaw Negesse, 25 points
2. Stephen Kiprotich, 16 points
3. Dickson Chumba, 9 points
4. Shumi Dechasa, 4 points
5. Peter Some, 1 point

At the end of the series (which concludes at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon), the athlete with the most points wins the $500,000 grand prize. Scoring is 25 points for a win, 16 for 2nd, 9 for 3rd, 4 for 4th and 1 for 5th. Only two races can count in a given series.

A Return to Normalcy?

Last year marked the first year since 1983 in which an American man broke the tape at the finish line on Boylston Street. And as exciting as it was to see Meb Keflezighi win Boston – just a year after the tragic finish-line bombing – the odds are against another American victory on Monday. Remember, heading into last year’s race, we estimated an American’s odds for victory at somewhere between 1/27 (3.7%) and 1/19,813 (.0051%).

Over the past quarter century, foreigners have dominated Boston, specifically Kenyans, who have won 19 of the past 24 editions. That’s a level of dominance unmatched at the other Abbott World Marathon Majors events over the same time frame (we’ve excluded Tokyo, which only took its current form in 2007).

Male champions at major marathons since 1991, by nationality

BostonLondonBerlinChicagoNew YorkTOTAL
Kenya19914131065
Ethiopia3341213
Brazil1427
Mexico347
USA11215
South Africa224
Great Britain1124
Portugal314
Morocco22 15
Spain112
Soviet Union11
South Korea11
Italy11

Obviously, Kenyans have dominated the marathon over the past 25 years. In that span, there was a better chance of a Kenyan winning one of the five above marathons (55 percent) than the rest of the world combined. Kenyans won five times as many marathons as the next-closest country (Ethiopia, 11 percent).

Will Kenya add to its total in Boston? Four of the fastest men in the field by PR are Ethiopian, but the fastest guy — Patrick Makau (whose 2:03:38 PR puts him fourth on the all-time list) is Kenyan. Abel Kirui and Wilson Chebet also offer strong chances for a Kenyan title.

No man is head and shoulders above this field — as Wilson Kipsang or Eliud Kipchoge might be if either of them had entered (both will run London instead) — but there is one runner who deserves to be the favorite. Let’s start with him and then move on to the rest of the international field.

Full men’s elite field

NamePBNationComment
Patrick Makau2:03:38 (Berlin, 2011)KENInconsistent since setting WR in 2011 but won Fukuoka (2:08:22) in Dec.
Lelisa Desisa2:04:45 (Dubai, 2013)ETH2013 champ was 2nd at ’14 NYC + ’15 Dubai
Yemane Tsegay2:04:48 (Rotterdam, 2012)ETHWon Daegu (2:06:51) + Ottawa (2:06:54) last year; 5th at Honolulu (2:17:54) in Dec.
Tadese Tola2:04:49 (Dubai, 2013)ETHBronze at ’13 World Champs; 2:10:30 for 5th at Xiamen on Jan. 3
Gebre Gebremariam2:04:53 (Boston, 2011)ETH2010 NYC champ was 3rd in Boston in ’11 + ’13
Abel Kirui2:05:04 (Rotterdam, 2009)KENGreat championship marathoner: world champion in ’09/’11, OG silver in ’12. Boston debut.
Wilson Chebet2:05:27 (Rotterdam, 2011)KEN2014 runner-up won Honolulu in Dec. (2:15:35)
Frankline Chepkwony2:06:11 (Eindhoven, 2012)KEN3rd last year; 6th in Berlin in Sept.
Wesley Korir2:06:13 (Chicago, 2012)KEN2012 champ was 8th in Chicago last fall
Bernard Kipyego2:06:22 (Amsterdam, 2014)KENSet PR to win Amsterdam last fall
Dathan Ritzenhein2:07:47 (Chicago, 2012)USA3x Olympian is healthy + ready for 1st marathon since ’13 Chicago (5th, 2:09:45)
Lusapho April2:08:32 (Hannover, 2013)RSA3rd in NYC in ’13 and ran 61:21 for 4th at NYC Half on Mar. 15
Meb Keflezighi2:08:37 (Boston, 2014)USADefending champ was 4th at NYC in Nov.; 62:17 for 8th at NYC Half on Mar. 15
Vitaliy Shafar2:09:37 (Boston, 2014)UKRPR’d by over 2 minutes to finish 4th last year
Zersenay Tadese2:10:41 (London, 2012)ERIHM WR holder (58:23) has yet to figure out the marathon in 3 attempts
Dylan Wykes2:10:47 (Rotterdam, 2012)CAN2nd-fastest Canadian ever will run 1st marathon since ’12 OG (20th, 2:15:26)
Jeffrey Eggleston2:10:52 (Gold Coast, 2014)USA2nd-fastest American of ’14 was 8th last year, then PR’d to finish 2nd at Gold Coast in July
Nicholas Arciniaga2:11:30 (Houston, 2011)USA2nd American last year (7th, 2:11:47); 10th at NYC in Nov. (2:15:39)
Fernando Cabada2:11:36 (Berlin, 2014)USA16th in ’13; coming off pb in Berlin last fall
Matt Tegenkamp2:12:28 (Chicago, 2013)USA2x Olympian on the track tackles career marathon #2

The Favorite

Lelisa Desisa — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:04:45 pb (2013 Dubai), 59:30 half
Last two marathons: 2nd, 2015 Dubai (2:05:52); 2nd, 2014 New York (2:11:06). No prep races (2:05:52 in Jan.).

There are a lot of reasons to like Desisa. First, he’s got experience on the course — he won here in 2013. Second, he came as close as anyone recently to beating the world’s top marathoner — Wilson Kipsang — pushing him for over 26 miles in New York last fall before Kipsang pulled away for a seven-second victory in the final straight (Desisa accomplished this while battling bladder problems — he said he had to go to the bathroom as early as 15k in New York and didn’t make it clear whether he went mid-race or had to hold it in).

Desisa's win in 2013 was overshadowed by the tragic finish-line bombing; can he get a second title in 2015?

Desisa’s win in 2013 was overshadowed by the tragic finish-line bombing; can he get a second title in 2015?

But perhaps the best reason to like Desisa’s chances on Monday is that he’s finished either first or second in every race he’s finished since the start of 2013. Take a look at his recent record:

DateRaceTimePlace
1/25/2013Dubai Marathon2:04:451st
4/15/2013Boston Marathon2:10:221st
6/23/2013BAA 10K28:152nd
8/17/2013World Champs marathon2:10:122nd
10/13/2013BAA Half Marathon60:341st
2/14/2014RAK Half Marathon59:361st
4/21/2014Boston MarathonDNFN/A
10/12/2014BAA Half Marathon61:381st
11/2/2014New York City Marathon2:11:062nd
1/23/2015Dubai Marathon2:05:522nd

Those first and seconds aren’t coming in some podunk, no-name races. Dubai, Boston, the World Champs, the RAK Half, New York…those are among the best and deepest races in the world. Desisa has taken on all comers and his record is exceptional. He also clearly loves racing in Boston as in addition to his ’13 marathon victory, he’s won the BAA Half in each of the past two years and took second to Stephen Sambu in the BAA 10K in 2013. Of course, the one black mark on his résumé did come in this race a year ago as he dropped out before 35k. But Dennis Kimetto also dropped out of that race and things turned out all right for him afterwards.

Normally, because he has already run a marathon this year (taking second in Dubai on January 23), there might be some concern over a guy like Desisa as he’s not as well-rested as some other runners in the field.  His buildup has been shorter, as he will have had 87 days (just over 12 weeks) between marathons. It’s something to consider, but it doesn’t figure to be a huge factor in Desisa’s case. He’s still young for a marathoner — he turned 25 in January — which means that he can recover faster than a runner in his 30s. And Desisa also managed to pull of the same double in 2013, winning Dubai and then Boston three months later — and that was with the races a week closer together (80 days apart vs. 87 in 2015). More than a cause for concern, we view Dubai as a sign that Desisa is fit and ready to go (Dubai was his only race of any kind since New York so it’s our only recent data point for him).

If Desisa shows up in Boston with his A game, he’s unlikely to finish lower than second and has a great chance to win.

The Former World Record Holder

Patrick Makau — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:03:38 pb (2011 Berlin), 58:52 half
Last two marathons: 
1st, 2014 Fukuoka (2:08:22); 11th, 2013 London (2:14:10). No prep races.

Former World Record Holder Patrick Makau

Over three years removed from his world record, can Makau return to the top of global marathoning in Boston?

Makau is something of an enigma. With London snapping up many of the world’s top marathoners this year — including the top five in our 2014 rankings — Boston had to take a couple of chances with its elite field (see Zersenay Tadese also) but the payoff could be huge. Makau has won several big marathons — Rotterdam, Frankfurt and Berlin (twice) — and set the world record of 2:03:38 in Berlin in 2011, which remains the fourth-fastest performance ever on a record-eligible course.

However, he developed a knee injury in the wake of a disappointing 11th-place finish at the 2013 London Marathon (2:14:10). That caused him to take several months off; he didn’t race a marathon in the fall of 2013 or the spring of 2014. His results over the first 11 months of 2014 didn’t inspire confidence, either. He ran a 68:42 half in Honolulu, showed some improvement with a 27:57 for 4th at the Beach to Beacon 10K but then struggled to a 64:48 at the Valencia Half Marathon on October 19, which placed him just 23rd overall.

Yet despite two years of injury and ineffectiveness, Makau then proceed to run and win the Fukuoka Marathon on December 7 (2:08:22) — his first victory of any kind since March 2013. Assuming Makau has managed to stay healthy between now and then — we’ll check in on his buildup at the elite press conferences later this week (he hasn’t raced this year) — he should be even fitter than he was four months ago (remember, he’s still only 30 years old). One worry about Makau is that he’s never excelled on the tougher courses of the marathon world — all of his marathons have been on flat courses, save for a DNF in New York in 2009. Makau may not be the 2:03-guy he was four years ago, but he’s trending in the right direction. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him continue that trend with a victory in Boston on Monday – where on paper it doesn’t look like it will take a “2:03 equivalent performance” to win.

Entering In Good Form

Yemane Tsegay — Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:04:48 pb (2012 Rotterdam), 61:37 half
Last two marathons: 
5th, 2014 Honolulu (2:17:54); 1st, 2014 Ottawa (2:06:54). No prep races.

Tsegay loves the marathon. Since 2009 he’s never run fewer than three marathons in a year and has excelled on limited rest. He set his pb of 2:04:48 in Rotterdam in 2012, 11 weeks after running 2:06:29 in Dubai. Perhaps more impressively, he won the Daegu Marathon (2:06:51) on April 6 last year and came back just seven weeks later to win again in Ottawa (2:06:54). How ridiculous is that? Think of it this way: an American-born runner has broken 2:07 only twice in history (and one was Ryan Hall‘s wind-aided 2011 time); Tsegay broke 2:07 matched that total in the span of 50 days.

Though his third marathon of 2014 wasn’t as successful as his first two (he was only 5th on a tough Honolulu course in 2:17:54 in December), he’s got a great PR and has run very well in four of his last five marathons (he won Eindhoven in October 2013 in 2:09:11 and was seven seconds from winning in Taipei two months later, running 2:14:17). Boston would certainly be the biggest win of his career, but he has the experience and pedigree to make that a reality.

Chebet was the runner-up last year

Chebet was the runner-up last year

Wilson Chebet — Kenya, 29 years old, 2:05:27 pb (2011 Rotterdam), 59:15 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Honolulu (2:15:35); DNF 2014 Amsterdam. No prep races.

At the 40k mark of last year’s race, it looked as if Chebet was about to reclaim the race from Meb Keflezighi. The Kenyan covered 35k to 40k in a quick 14:29 and had trimmed Keflezighi’s lead from 1:21 (at 30k) to a mere eight seconds. But in the end, that fast 5k segment proved to be too fast and came back to bite Chebet as he never got closer than six seconds behind Keflezighi, who would wind up winning by 11. Would Chebet have won the race if he had gone with Meb after eight miles? We think yes, but that question will forever go unanswered.

All Chebet can control is how he performs in this year’s race (though after last year, we bet he’ll be less willing to allow anyone to break away in the first half of the race; he told John Hancock that he made a “big strategic mistake” in last year’s race (Editor’s note: His supposed recent comments claiming that he thought Meb was a rabbit were fabricated by a Kenyan journalist). His second in Boston last year was just one of many impressive marathon performances over the past few years for Chebet; he claimed three straight titles in Amsterdam from 2011 to 2013 and though he failed to defend his title there last fall (he wound up a DNF), he bounced back two months later to win Honolulu. This will be Chebet’s third crack at Boston (he was also fifth in 2012). He was close to his first major victory last year; can he take the final step on Monday?

Bernard Kipyego — Kenya, 28 years old, 2:06:22 pb (2014 Amsterdam), 59:10 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Amsterdam (2:06:22); 3rd, 2014 Rotterdam (2:07:58)
Tuneup race: 64:17 for 6th at Egmond aan Zee (NED) Half Marathon on January 11 (winning time 63:01).

Kipyego, who was third here two years ago, put together a very nice 2014, running 59:47 at the RAK Half in February, taking third in Rotterdam in April and winning Amsterdam in October. His 64:17 half in January wasn’t particularly impressive, but we won’t read too much into it since it was over three months ago. The question for Kipyego: has he peaked, or is he capable of raising his game and winning a major? He has raced in five World Marathon Majors (plus the 2013 World Championships) and each result has been solid: 6th (2010 Berlin), 3rd (2011 Chicago), 3rd (2012 Boston), 6th (2012 Chicago), 3rd (2013 Tokyo), 12th (2013 Worlds). But solid performances don’t win majors; great ones do. Kipyego has run between 2:06:22 and 2:07:53 seven times in the past six years; to finally break through and win a major, he needs to produce a 2:04- or 2:05-type effort (though that may mean a much slower time on Boston).

Don’t Count Them Out

Tadese Tola — Ethiopia, 27 years old, 2:04:49 pb (2013 Dubai), 59:49 half
Last two marathons: 5th, 2015 Xiamen (2:10:30 on Jan 3.); DNF, 2014 Chicago. No prep races.

Gebre Gebremariam — Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:04:52 pb (2011 Boston), 60:25 half
Last two marathons: 3rd, 2014 New York (2:12:13); 3rd, 2013 Boston (2:10:28). No prep races.

Frankline Chepkwony — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:06:11 pb (2012 Eindhoven), 60:11 half
Last two marathons: 6th, 2014 Berlin (2:07:35); 3rd, 2014 Boston (2:08:50). No prep races.

None of these three enters Boston in the best form, and they don’t have the fastest pbs in the field, either (fourth, fifth and eighth). But all have run at least seven marathons in their career with some decent success mixed in. Tola’s last two marathons weren’t great but his first two races of 2014 were quite impressive — 2:05:57 for second in Tokyo and a 2:06:55 win in Warsaw (Yes, he finished two marathons last year + DNFd at Chicago and ran 2:10:53 in Xiamen on January 3rd). Chepkwony was third last year.

Of the three, Tola and Gebremariam are the most interesting names and the most likely to win as a semi-long shots on Monday. Gebremariam, the 2009 World XC champ, doesn’t have the best times in the field (if you remove his wind-aided 2011 Boston performance, his PR is 2:07:59) but he has excelled on tougher courses in his career, as you might expect from a former World Cross Country champion. He’s finished 1st, 4th and 3rd in three appearances in New York and has two third-place finishes in Boston (2011 and 2013). The two men he lost to in New York in November are among the world’s very best (Wilson Kipsang and Lelisa Desisa), and only one of them will be in Boston. Gebremariam would little chance of winning in London, but he’s got a shot in Boston. As for Tola, he races too often in our mind (4 marathons in 2013, 3 last year and already one this year) but at 2:04:49, he’s the 19th-fastest man in history. Would it be beyond belief that a 2:04:49 man who was third at Worlds in 2013 wins 2015 Boston? No it would not. We think he’s got a better shot of winning at age 27 than the 30-year-old Gebremariam.

Great Potential, But Yet to Deliver in a Marathon With Appearance Fees

Abel Kirui — Kenya, 32 years old, 2:05:04 pb (2009 Rotterdam), 60:11 half
Last two marathons: 
6th, 2014 Amsterdam (2:09:45); 10th, 2014 Tokyo (2:09:04)
Tuneup race: 61:22 for 6th at Barcelona Half Marathon on February 15

Zersenay Tadese — Eritrea, 32 years old, 2:10:41 pb (2012 London), 58:23 half
Last two marathons: DNF, 2013 Chicago; 14th, 2012 London (2:10:41)
Tuneup race: 61:37 win at Eastern Africa Half Marathon Champs on February 7

Both of these men have already accomplished enough that if they retired today, their careers would go down as unqualified successes. Kirui has two world titles (2009 and 2011, which are worth 25 points in the AWMM standings) plus an Olympic silver medal (2012); Tadese has an Olympic bronze medal, a silver at Worlds, a World Cross Country title and the two fastest half marathon performances of all time (58:23 and 58:31). Yet for all their accolades, the pair have struggled when it comes to major marathons. Yes, Kirui has won Worlds twice — which the AWMM equate as a major in terms of points but at Worlds — but the number of Kenyans and Ethiopians are limited (it used to be five but now is three).

Tadese has five World Half Marathon titles but that has yet to translate to marathon success

Tadese has five World Half Marathon titles but that has yet to translate to marathon success

We know Kirui is a strong marathoner — you have to be to win two world titles and an Olympic silver. In Kirui’s case, it might be that he’s running the wrong majors. Theoretically, a great championship racer like Kirui should be running unrabbitted majors such as Boston and New York. Instead, he’s run Berlin and London twice each, Tokyo once and New York once. This will be his Boston debut. Kirui hasn’t run a good marathon since the 2012 Olympics, but between his 2:05:04 pb (six years old now) and his championship success, he has a good shot to do very well in the non-rabbited Boston. That being said, he is 32 and did run 2:09 twice last year.

Tadese is the strongest argument that the marathon is a totally different animal from any other running event. He owns gaudy PRs of 26:37 and 58:23 for 10,000 and 13.1, yet his three attempts at the marathon have gone poorly: 2:12:03 for 7th in his debut in London in 2010, 2:10:41 for 14th in the same race two years later and a DNF in Chicago in 2013. You can’t really use the excuse that those races were rabbitted, either (if anything, a fast pace favors someone with a 58:23 pb in the half).

There’s still some hope for Tadese. Three examples is considered a small sample in everything but marathoning, so there’s still the chance that his performances were fluky rather than being indicative of a serious problem. But if he runs poorly in his fourth attempt in Boston, there might not be a fifth — why keep plugging away at the marathon if you’re not achieving results?

Nonetheless, we’re fascinated by both of these guys. Will the return to non-rabbited races be a fountain of youth for Kirui? Will Tadese finally get the marathon right? Tadese really intrigues us. Given his pbs, one would thing he’d excel at rabbited races, but it shouldn’t be forgotten he has four individual medals at World XC, including a gold in 2007. We’ve always believed Boston makes a lot of sense for cross country runners.

Best of the Rest

  • Wesley Korir won the boiling 2012 edition of the race (high of 88 degrees) but has bounced back to earth since then, finishing no higher than fourth in his five subsequent marathons. He ran 63:11 for 10th at the NYC Half on March 15. Unless the weather forecast of a 50 degree high for Monday changest by at least 30 degreees, he isn’t winning.
  • South Africa’s Lusapho April was 3rd at the NYC Marathon in 2013 but struggled last year (15th in Boston, 12th in NYC). He was 4th at the NYC Half in March in 61:21.
  • Vitaliy Shafar of Ukraine surprised with his fourth-place finish last year but he’s unlikely to do any better than that this year.
  • Dylan Wykes is the second-fastest Canadian of all-time (2:10:47) but breaking Jerome Drayton‘s 40-year-old national record seems unlikely on the challenging Boston course. This will be Wykes’ first marathon since the 2012 Olympics.

LRC Prediction: We’d be foolish to make our prediction on Wednesday — some five days out before Boston. We want to wait until at least Friday when we’ll try to get the inside scoop at the Boston elite press conference.

We will make one prediction — the American win streak in Boston stops at one — a non-American will be your winner. Of course, we would have said the same thing last year. But lightning won’t strike twice in the same location in back-to-back years.


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