Boston Marathon preview: Can Meb Keflezighi repeat?

Meb Keflezighi
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On paper, an American has a decent shot at the top three in the Boston Marathon on Monday. Perhaps even a win.

That’s Shalane Flanagan, who has the fifth-fastest personal best over 26.2 miles among the women’s field — behind four Ethiopians.

As for defending men’s champion Meb Keflezighi? He’s got the 13th-fastest personal best in the men’s field, which includes a former world record holder and the 2013 Boston Marathon winner.

He’s actually ranked higher on the men’s elite start list than last year (when he had the 15th-fastest personal best). Keflezighi is the only man in the top 15 born in the 1970s. He was born in 1975.

“Last year, nobody had good chances for me to win,” Keflezighi told reporters in Boston on Friday. “I think the chances are higher, at least according to others, this year than it was last year.”

Keflezighi will line up in Hopkinton on Monday morning with a chance to become the first U.S. man to repeat as Boston champ since Bill Rodgers won three straight from 1978-80 (Universal Sports, 8:30 a.m. ET, elite women at 9:32, elite men at 10).

The 2004 Olympic silver medalist has said his goal is to finish in the top three or run a personal best. He did both last year, though Boston times don’t count toward official personal bests due to the net downhill, point-to-point course.

Keflezighi can race with no pressure, given he’s already won this race and is not expected to prevail Monday.

But he also has factors working against him. He’s one year older, to turn 40 in May. And the top East Africans likely won’t let him get away with last year’s strategy, breaking around the eight-mile mark. They’ll stay with him this time.

So, Keflezighi will likely relinquish his title as reigning Boston champion on Monday.

Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa is favored to take the crown, given he’s finished first or second in every major race he’s finished the last two years, including winning Boston in 2013.

The very best Kenyans — world record holder Dennis Kimetto, No. 2 all time Emmanuel Mutai and New York City Marathon winner Wilson Kipsang — are not in the field.

“I don’t want the year to be over,” Keflezighi said with a laugh in Boston on Friday. “The greatest of all the marathons.”

An Ethiopian will also likely win the women’s race. The four fastest elites are from that nation, led by Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba, runners-up to Kenyan Rita Jeptoo at the 2014 Chicago Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon, respectively.

Jeptoo, the 2013 and 2014 Boston winner, is not going for a threepeat Monday because she tested positive for EPO in September and was suspended for two years.

Flanagan, 33 and the 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist, finished seventh in Boston last year in 2:22:02, which was 3:36 faster than her personal best going in.

Flanagan went another 48 seconds faster at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 28, placing third. Now, her personal best is within 1:22 of the top-ranked woman in the field, Dibaba.

A U.S. woman hasn’t won Boston in 30 years.

“I feel really optimistic and excited about this year, just because we don’t have [Jeptoo] in the race,” Flanagan told media in Boston on Friday. “That makes me feel like the possibilities are open and endless for anyone. It’s not like decided before the race who’s going to win.”

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