2017 Boston Marathon International Women’s Preview: Kenyan Stud Gladys Cherono Leads a Field That Includes Former Boston Champs Atsede Baysa, Caroline Rotich & Buzunesh Deba

By LetsRun.com
April 13, 2017

The 2017 Boston Marathon is upon us, and despite some high-profile scratches (Shalane FlanaganDennis Kimetto and Patrick Makau), we’re set for two terrific races on Marathon Monday with legitimate chances for American victories on both the men’s and women’s sides. Of the four 2016 U.S. Olympians running spring marathons (Galen RuppJared Ward, Meb Keflezighi and Desi Linden), all four will be racing in Boston, and both Rupp and Linden have already made it clear that their goal is to win. That won’t be easy, however. In the men’s race, Rupp faces five sub-2:05 men (although only one of them has run that time in the last two years), led by defending champ Lemi Berhanu Hayle of Ethiopia. Linden has her work cut out for her as well, as defending champ Atsede Baysa is joined by three sub-2:20 marathoners (course record holder Buzunesh Deba, two-time world champ Edna Kiplagat, 2015 Berlin champ Gladys Cherono) in the women’s field.

We’ll be on-site in Boston all week providing behind-the-scenes access. In addition to our race previews, we’ll also be on hand at the elite press conference to give you the scoop on the top pros and will have race-day coverage from Marathon HQ in Copley Square. We always feel the best way to follow a major marathon is to watch it live with a second screen opened to the LetsRun.com messageboard.

There’s a lot to cover before the race, so we’ve broken down our previews into multiple articles. This one will cover the international women. We’ve previewed Linden, Jordan Hasay and the other U.S. women in a separate article. You can find that below, along with our men’s previews.

American Women: 2017 Boston Marathon U.S. Women’s Preview: Can Desi Linden End the U.S. Major Drought? How Will Jordan Hasay Fare in Her Debut?
Galen Rupp: Why Galen Rupp Will (& Won’t) Win The 2017 Boston Marathon
American Men: 2017 Boston Marathon U.S. Men’s Preview: Olympians Galen Rupp, Meb Keflezighi, Jared Ward & Abdi Abdirahman Headline a Stacked Field
Full Men’s Preview: 2017 Boston Marathon International Men’s Preview: Lemi Berhanu Hayle Goes For the Repeat Against a Field That Contains 5 Sub-2:05 Guys

LRC All 2017 Boston Marathon coverage * Race website * 2016 LRC coverage

What: 121st Boston Marathon

Article continues below player.

When: Monday, April 17, 2016. 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 NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Live starting at 8:30 a.m ET. In Boston, WBZ4 will provide local coverage beginning at 7:00 a.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). The current series, Series X, began at last year’s Boston Marathon and concludes with the 2017 Boston Marathon. At the end of the series, the athlete with the most points wins the $500,000 grand prize (though that prize will be reduced to $250,000 starting with Series XI, which begins with next week’s London Marathon). 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.

Until last week, London/Olympic champion Jemima Sumgong appeared to have the title locked up, but her positive drug test has changed the situation. Assuming Sumgong’s B sample comes up positive, she won’t be eligible to win, which means the title will go to one of these women:

1. Florence Kiplagat, 34 points
4. Atsede Baysa, 25 points
9. Edna Kiplagat, 16 points
13. Joyce Chepkirui, 13 points
15. Ruti Aga, 9 points

For Baysa and Edna Kiplagat, it’s simple: if either of them wins in Boston, they will win the $500,000 WMM title as well (assuming Sumgong’s B sample is positive). For Chepkirui and Aga, the best they can do is tie Florence Kiplagat (they each have a third, and since only two races count per cycle, the most points they could score is 34), and since the first two tiebreakers (head-to-head and total wins) don’t break the tie, it would come down to a vote of the WMM race directors.

One thing that could complicate things is if Sumgong is stripped of her London and/or Olympic titles. If that’s the case, Florence Kiplagat (who was third in London) would move from 34 points to 41. And even if Sumgong is not stripped, the WMM may choose to ignore her results when calculating the standings. Unless Baysa wins (giving her a perfect 50 points), it could take a while to crown an official champion.

Elite Women’s Field

Name Nation PB Comment
Gladys Cherono Kenya 2:19:25 (Berlin, 2015) 2014 World Half champ has run 2:19 & 2:20 in 2 career marathons
Edna Kiplagat Kenya 2:19:50 (London, 2012) 2-time world champ was 3rd in Tokyo, 2nd in Chicago in ’16
Buzunesh Deba Ethiopia 2:19:59 (Boston, 2014) CR 1st in ’14, 3rd in ’15 but has struggled since then
Atsede Baysa Ethiopia 2:22:03 (Chicago, 2012) Defending champ has also won Chicago twice
Desi Linden USA 2:22:38 (Boston, 2011) 2011 runner-up was 7th at 2016 Olympics
Valentine Kipketer Kenya 2:23:02 (Amsterdam, 2013) 5th last year, then 3rd in Chicago
Caroline Rotich Kenya 2:23:22 (Chicago, 2012) Shock champion in 2015 but hasn’t done much since
Joyce Chepkirui Kenya 2:24:11 (Amsterdam, 2015) 66:18 half marathoner was 3rd Boston, 4th NYC last year
Rose Chelimo Bahrain 2:24:14 (Seoul, 2016) 8th at Olympics, then 9th at World XC
Ruti Aga Ethiopia 2:24:41 (Berlin, 2016) 2:24 in Berlin last year, but really struggled with a 2:46 in Dubai
Brigid Kosgei Kenya 2:24:45 (Lisbon, 2016) Coming off wins in Milan & Honolulu in ’16
Diane Nukuri Burundi 2:27:50 (London, 2015) NR 13th Olympic 10k; 3rd at NYC Half
Blake Russell USA 2:29:10 (Chicago, 2005) 2008 Olympian is 41 now
Lindsay Flanagan USA 2:29:28 (Frankfurt, 2016) 2nd at Pan Am Games marathon in ’15; 14th Olympic Trials
Rachel Hannah Canada 2:32:09 (Houston, 2016) 6th in Houston + Toronto last year
Esther Atkins USA 2:33:15 (Boston, 2014) 19th in 2014
Liz Costello USA debut 6th in Olympic Trials 10k last year
Jordan Hasay USA debut There are high expectations for her debut after 67:55 half in Houston

The Americans

We break down the chances of Desi Linden, Jordan Hasay and the rest of the Americans in a separate article: 2017 Boston Marathon U.S. Women’s Preview: Can Desi Linden End the U.S. Major Drought? How Will Jordan Hasay Fare in Her Debut?

The Heavy Favorite

Cherono winning gold at the World Half Champs in 2014 Cherono winning gold at the World Half Champs in 2014

Gladys Cherono — Kenya, 33 years old, 2:19:25 pb (2015 Berlin), 66:07 half, 30:29 10,000
Recent marathons: 2nd 2015 Dubai (2:20:03), 1st 2015 Berlin (2:19:25)
Prep race: 67:01 for 1st at Rome-Ostia Half Marathon on March 12

Simply put, Cherono is a stud. She’s broken 67:00 in the half marathon three times in her career (and almost added a fourth in March), has won a silver medal at Worlds on the track (2013 10,000) and a gold at the World Half Marathon Championships (2014). She ran one of the fastest debuts ever in Dubai two years ago (placing second by one second in 2:20:03) and followed that up by becoming the seventh-fastest marathoner in history that fall, winning Berlin in 2:19:25. No woman has run faster in the past five years.

Cherono looked set to build upon that success in 2016, clocking a half marathon PR of 66:07 at the RAK Half in February (also #7 all-time), but a hip injury caused her to scratch from London in the spring and New York in the fall. Though she lost some training as a result, Cherono looks fit and ready to go in Boston as she ran 67:01 in her tuneup half marathon in Rome last month.

Cherono is the most talented runner in Boston, as her PRs for both the half and full marathon are tops in the field and rank her among the fastest women in history. But there are reasons to be skeptical. Is Cherono fully recovered from the hip injury that bothered her last year? And how will Cherono, whose only marathon experience is on the flat, fast courses in Dubai and Berlin, handle the hilly, technical Boston course? The answers to those questions will determine her fate on Monday.

The Defending Champion

Baysa with men's champ Lemi Berhanu Hayle in 2016 Baysa with men’s champ Lemi Berhanu Hayle in 2016

Atsede Baysa — Ethiopia, 29 years old (turns 30 Sunday), 2:22:03 pb (2012 Chicago), 67:33 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2016 Boston (2:29:19), 6th 2016 Chicago (2:28:53)

Baysa did not enter last year’s race among the favorites, but the two-time Chicago champion displayed her tactical acumen to win in Boston. As the four-woman lead pack dropped a 5:00 16th mile just before the Newton Hills, Baysa hung back and was as far as 37 seconds behind after Heartbreak Hill. But as the leaders began to fade, Baysa picked up steam and won the race comfortably in the end — her 44-second margin of victory was the largest since Catherine Ndereba in 2005.

Her results since then have been unimpressive — 33:59 for 14th at the B.A.A. 10K last June and sixth at the Chicago Marathon — but Baysa is a smart marathoner with plenty of experience in majors. At her best, she’ll be in contention for a repeat victory in Boston, something no woman has accomplished since Ndereba in 2004-2005. And now she’s got extra motivation as a win will net her $500,000.

Still Going Strong at 37

Edna Kiplagat — Kenya, 37 years old, 2:19:50 pb (2012 London), 67:41 half
Recent marathons: 3rd 2016 Tokyo (2:22:36), 2nd 2016 Chicago (2:23:28)
Prep race: 69:37 for 4th at the NYC Half on March 19

Few women this decade have had as much success in as many marathons as Edna Kiplagat. She’s collected wins in New York (2010), London (2014) and Worlds (2011 and 2013) and last year added top-three finishes in Tokyo and Chicago. Boston and Berlin are the only World Marathon Majors she’s never run, and Kiplagat will check the former off her list on Monday (she’s never dropped out in 16 career starts, so expect her to finish).

Kiplagat hasn’t won a marathon since 2014, but part of that is due to the fact that she races such a tough schedule. Her two 2016 marathons showed that she still has the ability to run with the world’s best, and her 69:37 at the NYC Half demonstrated current fitness. Like Baysa and Linden, she’s a veteran who generally avoids tactical mistakes — though unlike those other two, this is her first Boston Marathon. As is the case with Baysa, a win will net her $500,000.

Two More Women Who Could Win

Chepkirui in action at last year's NYC Half Chepkirui in action at last year’s NYC Half

Joyce Chepkirui — Kenya, 28 years old, 2:24:11 pb (2015 Amsterdam), 66:18 half
Recent marathons: 3rd 2016 Boston (2:30:50), 4th 2016 New York (2:29:08)

Chepkirui has the makings of a future major champion. She’s already claimed wins in Honolulu (2014 and 2015) and Amsterdam (2015), and her third-place finish last year was a big improvement on her Boston debut (10th in 2015). Chepkirui was actually in the lead (along with Ethiopia’s Tirfi Tsegaye) as late as 24 miles before Baysa ran her down on a hot day. Chepkirui came back in November to take fourth in New York despite foot problems during the race. If those issues are behind her (we can’t know for sure as she hasn’t raced since NY), she has right combination of strength and speed (30:37 road 10k, 66:18 HM) to win in Boston.

Brigid Kosgei — Kenya, 23 years old, 2:24:45 pb (2016 Lisbon), 67:35 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2016 Milan (2:27:45), 2nd 2016 Lisbon (2:24:45), 1st 2016 Honolulu (2:31:11)
Prep race: 67:35 for 1st at Lago Maggiore Half Marathon on March 5

Here at LetsRun.com, we like to see athletes win races and set personal bests because those are the two biggest indicators of future success. So allow us to introduce you to Brigid Kosgei. Kosgei has eight races on her All-Athletics.com bio, and in all eight she either won the race or set a personal best.* That includes victories in last year’s Milan and Honolulu marathons sandwiched around a PR in Lisbon, as well as a win in her tuneup half marathon in Italy in — you guessed it — a personal best of 67:35.

Boston is by far the biggest stage Kosgei has ever raced on, so we don’t expect her to knock it out of the park in her first attempt. But with top competition pushing her, we can’t wait to see what Kosgei is capable of.

*Her Tilastopaja page also lists some cross country races, including a 23rd-place finish at this year’s Kenyan Champs, though that page also lists her age as 37 years old.

Longer Shots

Valentine Kipketer — Kenya, 24 years old, 2:23:02 pb (2013 Amsterdam), 68:21 half
Recent marathons: 3rd 2016 Mumbai (2:34:07), 5th 2016 Boston (2:33:13), 3rd 2016 Chicago (2:23:41)
Prep race: 74:55 for 3rd at Kilimanjaro Half Marathon on February 26

Kipketer faded down the stretch of her first Boston last year, but she’s one year wiser now and was only 13 seconds behind Kiplagat in Chicago last fall. Plus, at 24 years old, she still has room for improvement.

Rose Chelimo — Bahrain, 27 years old, 2:24:14 pb (2016 Seoul), 68:08 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2016 Seoul (2:24:14), 8th 2016 Olympics (2:27:36)
Prep race: 68:37 for 7th at RAK Half on February 10, 33:01 for 9th at World XC on March 26

Chelimo was one spot (but 88 seconds) behind Linden at last year’s Olympics; not bad for the second marathon of her life. Her 68:37 at the RAK Half in February wasn’t quite what she ran last year (68:08), but it’s still a solid time. Chelimo isn’t one of the top contenders, but a top-eight finish at the Olympics is nothing to sneeze at. She’s a bit of a throwback, as she’s running Boston less than a month after competing at World XC in Uganda (she was ninth). Hopefully, Chelimo can run well in Boston and show the world that it’s still possible to run World XC and a good spring marathon in the same year.

Former Champions Looking to Recapture Past Glory

Deba set the course record in Boston in 2014 Deba set the course record of 2:19:59 in Boston in 2014

Buzunesh Deba — Ethiopia, 29 years old, 2:19:59 pb (2014 Boston), 68:59 half
Recent marathons: 7th 2016 Boston (2:33:56), DNF 2016 New York, 3rd 2016 Honolulu (2:35:34)

It took over two years, but Deba was finally recognized by the B.A.A. last year as the rightful 2014 Boston champion and course record holder after doper Rita Jeptoo was stripped of the title. Unfortunately for Deba, since 2014 Boston, she hasn’t finished higher than third in a marathon since, including two straight DNFs in New York. Deba has still put forward some solid efforts — she was 14 seconds away from victory in Boston in 2015 after running with the leaders for the first 25 miles, and she placed third in Honolulu last year. But she was still over four minutes behind Brigid Kosgei in that race, and Kosgei isn’t even one of the favorites in Boston this year.

At 29, Deba should still have some run in her legs, and she loves the tough courses in New York (where she’s finished second twice) and Boston. But based on recent form, she’s not a contender to win this year.

Caroline Rotich — Kenya, 32 years old, 2:23:22 pb (2012 Chicago), 68:52 half
Recent marathons: 10th 2015 New York (2:33:19), DNF 2016 Boston
Prep race: 72:09 for 9th at NYC Half on March 19

Like Deba, Rotich hasn’t been able to reach the same heights since her Boston victory in 2015. She was only 10th that fall in New York (granted, that field was stacked) and only managed to race three times last year, one of which was a DNF in Boston. And her tuneup race wasn’t a great sign: she only ran 72:09, her slowest time in six appearances at the NYC Half (a race she won in 2011 and 2013). Like Deba, if she is to challenge the leaders in Boston, she’ll need to buck the form charts.

Best of the Rest

  • Ruti Aga, Ethiopia, 23 years old (2:24:41 pb): Looked solid in her first two marathons, running 2:25 in Vienna and 2:24 in Berlin last year, but really struggled in Dubai in January, taking 13th in 2:46.
  • Diane Nukuri, Burundi, 32 years old (2:27:50 pb): Nukuri was 5th in New York last year and her 3rd-place finish at the NYC Half in March (69:13) was better than anyone else entered in Boston, including Edna Kiplagat.

LRC Prediction: We won’t make our prediction until after we talk to the athletes at Friday’s press conference but we’ll almost certainly pick Cherono.

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