One year ago, Galen Rupp’s Boston Marathon was a success by any metric. He was in contention for the victory late into the race, running with confidence in just his third attempt at the distance. Even when Kenyan Geoffrey Kirui made a decisive move to drop Rupp, the American acquitted himself nicely, holding on for a second-place finish.
But Rupp didn’t win. And the prism through which he—and American distance running as a whole—is viewed is that of wins.
There have been too many victories at the international level, from Matthew Centrowitz and Emma Coburn on the track to Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi on the roads, to revert back to a time when just getting on the podium was a novelty. Rupp himself has progressed to a point where those expectations are warranted. After that Boston finish, he came back in the fall to win the Chicago Marathon. He enters this year’s Boston Marathon faster, healthier, and more experienced than he was in 2017. The only issue is the man who beat him can make the same argument.
Last year, Kirui broke away from Rupp in the 22nd mile and won by 21 seconds. In August, Kirui won the World Championships marathon by over 80 seconds. It was a dominant performance and one that showed Kirui’s ability to thrive in a championship setting without pacemakers.
Less than two months later, Rupp won the Chicago Marathon in 2:09:20, the first major title of his career and perhaps the best performance of his life (though that London Olympic 10,000m silver makes a strong case as well). The summer and fall performances solidified both men as among the top marathoners in the world.
This year, Rupp kept churning along. On March 11, he ran 59:47 as a tune-up in the Rome Half Marathon. That mark was the fastest half-marathon of his life and only four seconds off the American record. Though Kirui hasn’t raced in 2018, all indications are that both Rupp and Kirui are ahead of where they were last year. Monday will be each man’s fifth attempt at the distance and a chance to turn their matchup into a legitimate rivalry.
In prior marathons, Rupp has been content to wait and make a hard move in the latter portion of the race. All of his marathons have featured conservative earlier paces with finish times between 2:09 and 2:12. But what happens if the field goes out fast on Monday? Is he prepared for that type of race? Rupp seems to follow the flow of the race much like he did during his time on the track, and I’d expect nothing different on Monday. His half-marathon performance last month has to give him a psychological edge that he is equipped for whatever the field throws at him—fast, slow, or something in between.
Boston is known for strange results—no pacers and mercurial weather have caused unpredictable outcomes in the past (Monday’s forecast is for rain and wind with highs in the mid-50s). But despite that, this still looks like a race where Rupp and Kirui can rightfully be labeled co-favorites.
If Rupp does win, he strengthens his case as the best American men’s distance runner of all time. Boston would be his second World Marathon Major victory; add that to his bronze and silver medals from the Olympics and he’s in select company. Regardless of how you perceive the term “distance” (do you include milers? What about the 5000m?) and how you take into account the different eras, Rupp would need to be included in any list worth making.
As of now, his marathon accomplishments are still a step below Meb Keflezighi’s. Meb has Olympic marathon silver to Rupp’s bronze and Meb already has two World Marathon Major victories. Rupp can draw even with Meb with a win on Monday.
Three Strong Challengers From Ethiopia
A group of three Ethiopians will try to break up the Rupp-Kirui duopoly. Tamirat Tola, Lemi Berhanu, and Lelisa Desisa have all won big city marathons, and the chances are high that one of them has a good day on Monday and stays in contention late in the race. Tola ran 2:04:06 in the Dubai Marathon, a lifetime best. He’s familiar with Kirui after racing him at the 2017 World Championships marathon. Tola took second as Kirui captured gold.
Berhanu and Desisa both have Boston victories. Berhau won in 2016, while Desisa was victorious in 2015 and 2013. Though they’ve both proven capable of putting up a championship run, they’ve also proven vulnerable to the same marathon inconsistency that foils most professional runners.
Which Kenyan Will Have A Breakthrough?
After Kirui, the Kenyan field is unpredictable. The other six entrants in the professional field have long careers on the roads, but no World Marathon Major victories. Nobert Kigen, Wilson Chebet, and Evans Chebet have all run under 2:06. Felix Kandie has a personal best of 2:06:03 and placed fourth in the Berlin Marathon last year.
Philemon Rono won Toronto the past two years and Stephen Sambu took fifth in Chicago the last two years. None of those results scream "Future Boston Marathon champion!," but past winners have entered the race with fewer credentials to their name.
Of that group, Evans Chebet could be the one who surprises. The 29-year-old set his personal best of 2:05:30 in Valencia, Spain, last year. He doesn’t have a recorded result from 2018, but he was fourth in Tokyo in 2017 and third in Berlin in 2016. Monday will be his first race in Boston.
Biwott, Abdirahman Bolster American Hopes
The American field took a hit on Wednesday when Dathan Ritzenhein announced that he was pulling out of the race with an injury. The 35-year-old has had a long, successful career featuring all the highs and lows that professional running brings. Injuries have prevented him from finishing a marathon the past three years, but his build-up for this race provided hope that Ritzenhein could recapture his form.
Shadrack Biwott, Ritzenhein’s teammate with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, will look to build on his 2017. Last year, Biwott finished fourth in this race and placed 10th in New York. Biwott tuned up at the New York City Half Marathon, posting a time of 1:04:00 for 12th place.
Abdi Abdirahman returns to Boston after placing sixth in last year’s race. Abdirahman is having a career rebirth. The 41-year-old placed third in New York City in 2016 and seventh in New York last year. Those performances, in addition to his run in Boston last year, makes him a legitimate podium contender.
Vail, Kawauchi And Other Notable Entrants
Ryan Vail, Elkanah Kibet, Tim Ritchie, Scott Smith, and Andrew Bumbalough round out the American elite field. Yuki Kawauchi of Japan is entered. Boston will be Kawauchi’s fourth marathon of 2018 (he’s also run three half marathons this year). On January 1, he came to Massachusetts and ran his 76th sub-2:20 marathon, breaking the old record of 75.
Kawauchi’s countryman Kentaro Nakamoto enters with a personal best of 2:08:35 and a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics. Abdi Bageeye is the Dutch national record holder with a time of 2:08:16 and was eighth in Boston in 2016.