Desisa, Rotich Look to Defend Titles in Boston

Boston. April 20, 2015. Chilling winds and constant rain wasn't enough to deter this group of runners from finishing the 2015 Boston Marathon. (Photo by: Pankaj Khadka/BU News Service)
Written by Michael Sol Warren

By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service

Tomorrow is the 120th running of the Boston Marathon. Thousands of runners will complete the trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square, but only a couple dozen have a chance of finishing first. Here’s what to watch for in the elite race.

What is going on?

The Boston Marathon is a 26.2 mile (42.2 km) race that happens annually on Patriot’s Day (that’s the third Monday in April for all you non-Massachusetts readers). About 30,000 runners are entered in the race. Of these, 19 men and 17 women make up what is considered the elite field: professional runners entered not just to finish the race, but to win it.

What is on the line?

The Boston Athletic Association will award a guaranteed $830,500 in prize money at the 2016 Boston Marathon. The top fifteen men and the top fifteen women will receive money starting at $150,000 for winning and going down to $1,500 for finishing fifteenth. Prize money is also awarded to the top five men and women in the Master’s Division (40 years and older) and the top ten men and women in the Push Rim Wheelchair Division.

Some of the elite runners will also be looking to improve their standings in the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Boston is one of six marathons in the series (Berlin, New York, Tokyo, London and Chicago being the other five). Elite athletes are awarded points based on their finishes in these six races. The winner of the men’s series and the women’s series, both running and wheelchair, split a $1 million prize purse. The 2016 Boston Marathon marks the beginning for Series X, which will end with the completion of the 2017 Boston Marathon.

For some foreign athletes, especially the Kenyans and Ethiopians, a trip to the Olympics may be on the line as well. Each nation sets its own standards for selecting an Olympic team. While the U.S. uses a trials system, other nations hand-select their teams. A strong showing at Boston would likely go a long way to boosting these athletes’ hopes of running in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

What should you know about the wheelchair race?

The competitors start first and finish first. The push rim wheelchair athletes are faster than the runners. Last year, Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the men’s wheelchair race in 1:29:53, and Tatyana McFadden of Maryland won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:52:54. Both Hug and McFadden are back this year to defend their titles.

Who won the Boston Marathon last year?

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopa won the men’s race last year in 2:09:17.

Caroline Rotich, a Kenyan who lives and trains in Santa Fe, New Mexico, won the 2015 women’s race in 2:24:55. Both Desisa and Rotich are back to defend their titles this year.

Who are the favorites this year?

The favorite on the men’s side is the defending champion, Desisa. He’s won Boston twice (2013 and 2015), so he knows better than anyone else in the field what it takes to come out on top.

Sammy Kitwara of Kenya has the fastest personal best time of the elite men (he ran 2:04:08 in the 2014 Chicago Marathon), but he has yet to win a major marathon in his career.

Wesley Korir of Kenya won the 2012 Boston Marathon and finished fifth last year. He hasn’t run sub-2:10 since 2014, but he is arguably the most experienced of the elite runner.

On the women’s side, Rotich is back to defend her title, but it’s hard to count her as a lock. Her personal best time of 2:23:22 (set in the 2012 Chicago Marathon) is on the slower end of the elite field. If tomorrow’s race is tactical, she’ll be in the mix. If someone takes the pace out hard, Rotich will struggle.

Buzunesh Deba, an Ethiopian that lives and trains in New York City, is a perennial favorite in Boston. She finished second in 2014 and third in 2015.

Tiki Gelena is the Ethiopian national record holder with a personal best time of 2:18:58 set in the 2012 Rotterdam marathon. She is also the Olympic Record holder, winning the London games in 2012 with a time of 2:23:07. This is her first time running Boston, however, and 2012 was a long time ago, so count Gelena as a wild card.

Who is missing?

The Americans! The top American runners will be sitting out of Boston this year because this is an Olympic year. The U.S. Olympic marathon trials were in February, so the competitors did not have enough time to recover and prepare for Boston. The four American elites who are running Boston are Ian Burrell, a lawyer from Colorado who ran in the 2015 IAAF World Championships; Girma Mecheso, a former runner at Oklahoma State; Sarah Crouch from North Carolina; and Neely Spence Gracey from Colorado.

Also missing is Geoffrey Mutai, winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon, who withdrew from the field on April 5. Mutai’s winning time five years ago, 2:03:02, is the Boston Marathon course record.

What kind of race will this be?

If you’re looking for record-setting times, look elsewhere. This is Boston! This is a tough course that typically yields a slower, more tactical race. The runners will at least have a break with some beautiful weather: Race conditions are forecasted to be upper-50s and partly cloudy with a slight tailwind. So the potential for a fast race is there, but I’ll still be counting on tradition prevailing.

Where can you watch?

If you can’t make it out to the course but you’d like to watch the race, you have a few options. People living in the Boston area can watch the local broadcast on WBZ-TV. The national TV broadcast will be done by the NBC Sports Network. You can also stream the race worldwide on the Boston Athletic Association’s website.

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