By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BOSTON (17-Apr) — Kenya’s Evans Chebet successfully defended his Boston Marathon title here this morning, soundly defeating two-time Olympic Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge and backing-up his TCS New York City Marathon win last fall. Chebet, 34, who represents adidas, worked with his training partner Benson Kipruto to drop Kipchoge in the 20th mile and collect the $150,000 first place prize. He crossed the finish line in 2:05:54.
“I know this course very well,” Chebet said in his post-race broadcast interview. He added: “I’m so happy today.”
On the women’s side, two-time World 5000m champion Helen Obiri emerged victorious from a pack of five women at the 40-K mark. The 33 year-old Kenyan, who was the last elite athlete to enter the race only three weeks ago, clocked 2:21:38 in only her second marathon, a personal best.
“I was feeling like my body was ready,” said Obiri who runs for the Boulder-based On Athletics Club. She added: “I kept on fighting.”
KIPCHOGE TAKES IT OUT FAST
Despite damp and cold conditions at the start (49F/9C with 95% humidity), Kipchoge took the race out fast. He ran the first (downhill) mile in a snappy 4:37 and took the field through 5 km in a blistering 14:17. That was well faster than the 14:32 Geoffrey Mutai ran in 2011 when he set the still-standing course record of 2:03:02.
Despite the red-hot pace, there were a dozen men in the lead pack including Chebet, 2021 champion Kipruto, 2021 TCS New York City Marathon champion Albert Korir, two-time NCAA cross country champion Conner Mantz, and Tanzanian record-holder Gabriel Geay.
Prior to the race, Chebet and Kipruto agreed to work together all the way to the finish. They were not working specifically to defeat Kipchoge, but rather the entire field.
“When we race we don’t race against any one (athlete),” Kipruto explained. “We race against all of the competitors.”
The pair, coached by Italian Claudio Berardelli, were content to let Kipchoge lead. Chebet spent some time at the back of the pack surveying his rivals and conserving his energy. He was feeling confident.
“That I fell back was my calculation,” said Chebet. “That was better for me. I fell back so that I observed (the others).”
The pace cooled a bit by the halfway point (1:02:19), and the same 12 athletes were still together. Kipchoge was still on the front. He kept a steady pace through 30-K which eventually trimmed the pack to seven: Kipchoge, Geay, Andualem Belay, John Korir, Albert Korir, and Kipruto. Morocco’s Zouhair Talbi was in eighth place 23 seconds back. Kipchoge, dressed in a white top and orange shorts, still looked strong.
But things fell apart quickly for the 38 year-old world record holder. In the uphill 20th and 21st miles, which included Heart Break Hill, Kipchoge rapidly fell back. He lost 16 seconds in the 20th mile, and another 35 seconds in the 21st. He would finish sixth in 2:09:23, the slowest marathon of his career.
Kipchoge did not speak with the media, but his management company provided the following statement:
“I live for the moments where I get to challenge the limits. It’s never guaranteed, it’s never easy. Today was a tough day for me. I pushed myself as hard as I could but sometimes we must accept that today wasn’t the day to push the barrier to a greater height. I want to congratulate my competitors and thank everyone in Boston and from home for the incredible support I am so humbled to receive. In sports you win and you lose and there is always tomorrow to set a new challenge. Excited for what’s ahead.”
At the front, Geay worked with Chebet and Kipruto to keep the pace high. Despite the hills, they split 14:56 for the 5-kilometer segment between 30 and 35-K, which dropped Belay and the two Korirs. Everything was going according to plan.
“During our training we were hoping that we would make it to the top three,” Chebet told reporters. “God heard our prayer and we made it to the top three.”
The trio stayed together through 40-K holding the same pace (14:55 from 35 to 40-K). With one kilometer to go –where the course goes under Massachusetts Avenue, making a quick downhill followed by an uphill– Chebet broke away from Geay and Kipruto. He had the final straight on Boylston Street to himself, and finished a comfortable eight seconds ahead of Geay (2:06:04) and two more seconds ahead of Kipruto (2:06:06). Albert Korir held on for fourth (2:08:01) and Talbi –who was only in seventh place at 35-K– moved up to finish fifth (2:08:35). The top-5 earned 2024 Olympic Games qualifying marks because the Boston Marathon is a World Athletics Platinum Label Road Race (top-5 get Games qualifiers regardless of time or whether the course is downhill).
“As you may have observed it was my desire to defend my title,” said Chebet, wearing his gold winner’s wreath. “But looking at it as teamwork, that either of us would win. It doesn’t matter (which one).”
Scott Fauble was the top American, finishing seventh in 2:09:44, his fifth top-10 finish at an Abbott World Marathon Majors event. Mantz, who went with the hot pace early in the race, faded to 11th in 2:10:25 in his second marathon.
OBIRI WINS RACE OF ATTRITION
Unlike the men, the women went out conservatively today. Through 5-K (17:48), there were 26 women within two seconds of the official leader, Maegan Krifchin, and the pack was only on pace to finish in a modest 2:30:13. Perhaps it was the cold weather or the wet conditions (it rained on and off during the race), but the women seemed not in a hurry to reach the finish line today. Obiri would say later that maintaining her patience would be key today.
But the pace soon picked up. After running 16:58 from 5-K to 10-K, the pace dropped to 16:01 for the third 5-K segment through 15-K. That cut the lead group to ten: Amane Beriso, Gotytom Gebreslase, Ababel Yeshaneh, Celestine Chepchirchir, Obiri, Hiwot Gebremaryam, Nazret Weldu, Joyciline Jepkosgei, Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, and Angela Tanui. American Emma Bates was another seven seconds back, and would soon catch the leaders.
The pace then stabilized, and the lead pack of 11 stayed together through halfway (1:11:29) and all the way to the 20 mile mark where the most testing hills begin. It was not until the field had crested Heart Break Hill that things really started to pick up again. For the downhill 22nd mile, the leaders split 5:08 which whittled the top group to eight (Gebreslase, Tanui and Chepchirchir were dropped).
Obiri, who has 3:57.05 1500m speed, was in great position. Running near the front, she knew that she had the best finish speed. She stayed patient, waiting to strike.
“I can’t do it in front,” Obiri said, meaning that it was not up to her to push the pace. “I have to wait, wait.”
With one mile to go, the group was down to four: Obiri, Beriso, Yeshaneh, and Salpeter. Bates was too far back to contend for the podium, but she would finish fifth in a personal best 2:22:10, bagging a 2024 Olympic Games qualifier. Yeshaneh had tripped and fallen at the back of the pack, but had gotten up quickly to rejoin the race.
The race was still not decided at 40-K (2:14:44), but moments later Obiri broke away. Pumping her arms in her signature style that brought her so many wins on the track, Obiri gapped the field and would win by a relatively comfortable 12 seconds. Beriso got second (2:21:50), Salpeter was third (2:21:57) and Yeshaneh was fourth (2:22:00).
Obiri said that having her daughter, Tania, and her husband, Tom Nyaundi, at the finish helped motivate her in the final kilometers.
“I say let me try to work hard because my daughter is here,” Obiri said. She added: “Can I try to make them happy?”
Aliphine Tuliamuk was the second American, finishing 11th in 2:24:37, a personal best. Nell Rojas was the third American in 2:24:51, another personal best, and 40-year-old Sara Hall was the fourth American, and the race’s masters champion, in 2:25:48. Her time was faster than the ratified USATF marathon record for USA women over 40 (2:27:47, Deena Kastor, Chicago, 11-Oct-2015), but the Boston course is not eligible for record-setting.
BIG WINS FOR HUG AND SCARONI IN THE WHEELCHAIR RACES
Marcel Hug of Switzerland and Susannah Scaroni dominated the professional wheelchair races. Hug rocketed away from the field right at the start, built up over a four-minute lead at halfway, and zoomed to the finish line in Back Bay in an astounding 1:17:06, the fastest time in history by a wheelchair racer in a certified marathon (it’s not a world record because the course is downhill by more than three times the allowable limit).
“It feels incredible,” said the soft-spoken Hug. “It was a great race, but also a difficult race.” He added: “I tried to go hard from the beginning and see what is possible.”
Scaroni had a 30-second lead by 15-K, and was up by 67 seconds at the halfway point despite having to stop and tighten the axle of her wheelchair with a hex wrench she carried in her tool kit. She got rolling again, and finished more than five minutes ahead of second place Madison De Rozario of Australia, 1:41:45 to 1:46:55. Four-time champion Manuela Schar of Switzerland had a puncture and was unable to finish.
“I have come to Boston since 2012,” said Scaroni in disbelief. “It’s one of my favorite courses. The course challenged me; the rain challenged me.”
PHOTO: Evans Chebet and Helen Obiri celebrate after winning the 2023 Boston Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)