2018 Boston Marathon Analysis: Galen Rupp Faces A Tougher Task Than In 2017 But The US Women Have Their Best Shot At Victory In Decades
January 12, 2018
Yesterday, the full elite fields for the 2018 Boston Marathon were released.
Now that we’ve had a day to analyze them, we break down the chances of victory for the Americans for you.
1) Galen Rupp faces a tougher task in 2018 than in 2017
In looking at PBs/global medals won, the fields for the 2018 and 2017 Boston Marathons are similar as shown by the following chart.
|# Sub-2:04 Entrants||#Sub-2:05 (inclusive)||Sub-2:06||Sub-2:07||Sub-2:08||Medallists||Potential Winners*|
*Since Tokyo was added to the World Marathon Majors in 2013, every single Major has been won by a person who either had already won a global medal or had a pb under 2:08.
Looking at that chart, one might actually think the 2017 field was stronger than this year’s field. They’d be wrong.
PRs only tell so much of the story. The 2018 field is actually a little stronger as many of the guys are still in their prime — or close to it. Last year’s Boston field had a couple of guys with quick PBs but who were clearly way past their prime and not going to challenge for the win (Emmanuel Mutai/Wesley Korir, for example).
In 2017, only four of the men in the Boston field had broken 2:07 the year before the race. This year, five men in the field broke 2:07 in 2017 and that doesn’t count defending champion Geoffrey Kirui, who only won Boston and Worlds last year and Galen Rupp (2:09:20 pb).
Of last year’s 10 fastest entrants, only three of them had set their PBs in the two years before the race (starting in 2015) and only five had done it in the previous three years (starting in 2014). In this year’s Boston field, 7 of the 10 fastest entrants have PR’d in the last two years.
The 2018 Boston field is full of guys who are both good and in their prime. Three of the top six marathoners in our 2017 world rankings are entered (#1 Geoffrey Kirui, #3 Tamirat Tola, and #6 Galen Rupp). Last year, Boston only had two of the top 10 in our world rankings from the year before — #4 Rupp and #8 Lemi Berhanu Hayle.
2) The 2018 Boston women’s field is also better than 2017 but the odds of an American victory may be the best in decades
When the U.S. elite field was announced in December, American fans began salivating over the four-way showdown between Shalane Flanagan, Jordan Hasay, Molly Huddle, and Desi Linden. Outside of the Olympic Trials, no race in U.S. history has every attracted that much top-tier female marathon talent.
But those women aren’t just going to be thinking about beating each other; they’re going to be thinking about beating everyone and becoming the first American women’s champ in Boston in the professional era. The last American winner was Lisa Rainsberger, then known as Lisa Larsen Weidenbach, in 1985, but that win may deserve a small asterisk as many top pros boycotted Boston in protest of them refusing to pay prize money and her winning time was just 2:34:06. Boston started offering prize money in 1986.
Because this is a major marathon, there are international studs in the field. Defending champion Edna Kiplagat is one of the greatest marathoners of her generation, a three-time World Marathon Majors series champion who also earned her third World Championship medal last summer in London. Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa is the rightful Olympic champion, as she finished second behind doper Jemima Sumgong in 2016. Buzunesh Deba is the Boston course record holder, the only woman to ever break 2:20 on the course. Aselefech Mergia has the fastest PR in the field at 2:19:31, has won Dubai three times and was third in London last year. Caroline Rotich won Boston three years ago. At their best, any of those women could win in April.
The good news for the Americans is that every single one of the women we just mentioned lost to an American in a 2017 marathon. Check it out:
Kiplagat: lost to Flanagan in New York
Kirwa: lost to Amy Cragg at Worlds
Deba: lost to Hasay and Linden in Boston and to four more Americans in New York
Mergia: lost to Cragg and Serena Burla at Worlds
Rotich: lost to Hasay, Linden, and others in Boston (DNF)
Additionally, while Kiplagat is coming off one of the best years of her career at age 38 and Kirwa won two marathons last year (Nagoya and Macao, setting a PR of 2:21:17 in the former), Rotich and Deba both appear to be past their primes as neither has run a great marathon since they went 1-3 in Boston three years ago.
When we analyze major marathons, we like to look at potential winners. Twenty-nine of the last 30 major marathon champions have entered the race with either a sub-2:24 PR or a World Championship medal. Looking at the Boston field, 11 women fit that criteria. Five of them are the international women we mentioned above (Kiplagat, Kirwa, Deba, Mergia, and Rotich). Three of them are Americans (Hasay, Flanagan, Linden). The other three are the U.S.’s Deena Kastor (2:19:36 pb), Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska (2:21:59 pb), and Mexico’s Madai Perez (2:22:59 pb). Kastor hasn’t run a marathon since 2015 and will be 45 years old when she toes the line in Boston, so we’re crossing her off. We’re crossing off Perez, too, since she hasn’t broken 2:24 since 2006.
That means, of the nine remaining potential winners, three are Americans. That’s not bad at all, especially considering Flanagan and Hasay are coming off huge performances in New York and Chicago while several of the international stars are limping in off subpar races. We also consider Molly Huddle to be a potential winner, considering she’s been the U.S.’s best road runner (non-marathon) for the last five years and has dazzling personal bests in the 5k (14:42), 10k (30:13 American record) and half marathon (67:41, which could drop lower this weekend).
Usually when we’re analyzing an American’s prospects of victory in a major marathon, we try to temper expectations. In most major marathons, there is only one, at most two, Americans with a shot at victory among a number of international talents. And then it turns into a numbers game for race organizers, as it did in the men’s field in Boston last year. Not every 2:06 guy is going to run well, but put enough of them on the start line and one of them is going to do what Geoffrey Kirui did in 2017.
In this race, there are four potential American winners so the odds of a US victory are just a lot higher overall.
We wouldn’t go as far as to say that an American woman is favored in Boston. If you told us we had to pick the winner and offered us all of the international runners or all of the Americans, we would go with the internationals. But the numbers have certainly shifted in the Americans’ favor compared to a typical World Marathon Major, and we’re operating under the same principle: put enough Americans capable of winning a major on the start line, and chances are one of them does something special.
We’re still three months out from the race, so the odds could still shift between now and April 16. Scratches from the international field will boost the Americans’ odds; scratches from the American field or late additions to the international field will lower them. But right now, the chances of an American victory in Boston are as good as they’ve been in over three decades.
That doesn’t mean the field is watered down. This year’s Boston women’s field is definitely better than last year’s. Even if we ignore Kastor and Perez, here is how the PBs of the entrants stack up the last two years.
|# sub-2:20 entrants||# sub-2:21 entrants||# sub-2:22 entrants||# sub-2:23 entrants||# sub-2:24 entrants|
Last year’s Boston race only had three women with a pb under 2:22 at the start line. This year there are seven.
What do you think? Talk about the 2018 Boston Marathon fields on our messageboard.
MB: Three 2:04 guys will be running Boston. Rupp might not even finish in third place.