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Boston Men 2007

Men’s 2007 Story By Jim O’Brien

The 2007 Boston Marathon was a contest with the elements as much as it was a competition between some of the world’s foremost contenders. Although the snowstorms forecast earlier in the week did not materialize, sheets of rain lashed the course in the 24 hours leading up to the start, and blustery winds reaching 50 mph hampered runners as the event got underway at the new starting time of 10 a.m.

The weather notwithstanding, much of the pre-race speculation focused on the well-being of defending champion, Robert K. Cheruiyot. Cheruiyot had first won this race in 2003, then endured a couple of indifferent years before storming back in 2006 and winning in both Boston and Chicago – the only man to have accomplished that feat in the same year. Significantly, that also placed Cheruiyot firmly at the head of the nascent World Marathon Majors table and in line for a $500,000 bonus were he able to maintain his form into 2007 and the second stage of the WMM.

All that was thrown into jeopardy at the conclusion of The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in October, when Cheruiyot slipped as he crossed the finish line, cracking his head on the asphalt and incurring some internal bleeding in his skull. Even prior to Boston, Cheruiyot stated that he was unsure if he would be in top form. Those doubts were placed firmly to rest when he injected a late race surge that devastated his sole remaining contender, James Kwambai, and brought the 28-year-old a victory that was as gratifying as it was courageous.

In addition to highlighting his competitive resolve, though, the outcome of this event illustrated that Cheruiyot is also a man of remarkable tactical awareness. The early miles passed at a pace that was literally dawdling. The unheralded Josephat Ongeri and Jared Nyambok charged to the forefront, passing the first mile in 4:49 and four miles in 19:31. Though the conditions indicated that so brisk a pace was folly – rain had slowed to a drizzle, but a blustery headwind persisted – a large pack comprised of all the main contenders opted for a pace that was hardly more than a jog. At that four mile point, the chasing group was 1:39 in arrears, a margin that had stretched to over two minutes by the time they reached 11 miles.

Ordinarily, one might safely assume that so large a gap in a race of this caliber would impact the outcome significantly. On this occasion, though, the universal – and accurate – consensus was that Ongeri and Nyambok were running on borrowed time, and the real running would only begin once the Newton Hills presented themselves.

Indeed, as the leaders began to pay the price for their impetuous running, the pack – including Cheruiyot, Kwambai, last year’s second placer Ben Maiyo, Stephen Kiogora, as well as Americans Peter Gilmore and Jason Lehmkuhle – began to re-focus and set about the real business of the day.

It was between 17 and 18 miles that Ongeri and Nyambok were swallowed whole, essentially the signal that the race was about to begin. Stephen Biwott took a turn at the front as the group passed 19 (1:39:00, an uphill split of 5:15), then allowed Philip Manyim to inch ahead. But the group remained a cohesive unit. It was only with the hills fully behind them that things began to change.

At 20 miles, the clock read 1:44:11 (5:11) and at 21 the figures were 1:49:13 (5:02), by which time Cheruiyot and Kwambai had drifted to the forefront, the first indication that the face of the race was about to change. At 35K (1:52:36), the group had slimmed to Cheruiyot, Kwambai, James Koskei, Ben Maiyo, Kiogora and Teferi Wodajo.

A 4:45 split to mile 23 (1:58:40) pruned that pack still further, with Wodajo and Maiyo falling adrift and Kiogora appearing to weaken. The bell was tolling and, quickly, a pedestrian competition evolved into a mano-a-mano nail-biter.

The defending champion and the novice pretender raced shoulder to shoulder from 23 to almost 25 (24 mile split of 2:03:19 – 4:37), at which point Cheruiyot upped the ante to a level that Kwambai could not reach. It was a question of commitment and reserves and strength and courage; and Cheruiyot held all of those attributes in abundance.

Once the move was made – and it was dramatic – there was never any question as to whom the winner would be. The defending champ opened daylight with every stride and never had cause to look back. At the line – which one might have assumed he approached with trepidation, given his fall in Chicago – his time of 2:14:13 gave him a 20 second advantage over Kwambai. Kiogora held on for third in 2:14:47. Respective prize money was $100,000, $40,000 and $22,500.

“Boston is not so easy,” Cheruiyot stated. “It is very tough. It was very cold.” Asked about the headaches from which he had been suffering, he explained, “There was a little pain, but it was just something small.”

As he received the celebrated Boston laurel wreath with the Kenyan National Anthem playing, Cheruiyot was clearly moved. “Our National Anthem reminds me of a lot of things,” he stated. “It reminds me of missing my home and that there are a lot of people – my family – looking at me. And it makes you feel like crying.”

Peter Gilmore’s 8th place finish was one lower than that of 2006, and his time of 2:16:41 was almost four minutes slower; but, there was still much cause for gratification. “This is the 10th marathon that I’ve finished,” he explained. “I’ve never had a race in which I felt so in control with regard to breathing and heart-rate, but my legs just wouldn’t respond. I think it was just the cold. The cold got to my legs. But it was good. I wasn’t going to drop out, and I wasn’t going to stop running hard.”

The post-event analyses of this race will show it to have been one of affirmation that a thrilling race can evolve from one in which the times become a virtual irrelevance. Additionally, it affirmed that Robert K. Cheruiyot is a man who can overcome adverse conditions, troublesome tactics and personal ailments and prove, without question, that he is, at present, the finest marathoner in the world.

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