Korir, Cherop sweat out wins in the 2012 Boston Marathon
by Jon Gugala
The biggest character in 2012 Boston Marathon was not in the star-studded lineups in the men and women's races, but the starting and finishing temps. With a beginning of 77 degrees and an end at 84, gone were the favorable conditions of last year that saw the top two fastest men's marathons ever. University of Louisville alumnus Wesley Korir and 2011 Boston third-place finisher Sharon Cherop, both of Kenya, were the men's and women's champions.
Entering the race, it was Geoffrey Mutai, the 2011 Boston and New York City marathons winner and owner of the fastest time ever at the distance (2:03:02), that was the man kept squarely in the sights of his competitors. And he would instigate the break of a lead pack going into the Newton Hills at 17 miles, winnowing the group down to seven. But stomach cramps soon crept in, and it was Matthew Kisorio that would then counter, pulling Levy Matebo, a 2:05:16 marathoner (Frankfurt, 2011), with him.
Don't know Kisorio? He holds the U.S. all-comers record in the half marathon (58:46) and has a piddly 2:10:58 marathon best from NYC 2011. He's been waiting to pop a good one to match his half marathon credentials. And for a second, it looked like it was a two man race, and Kisorio, soon the aggressor, would be the last man to bet against.
But, jeez, did we mention it was hot?
Matebo would make the break up Heartbreak Hill, and many claimed he'd struck the coup de grace. But he was a man with a target on his back, and you could seek the flecks of sweat come off his shorts as he worked.
Way in the back, the story was unfolding, and it began at mile 20 in seventh place with Korir.
"I knew that it was too hard," Korir said of the early moves. "It's better for me to be conservative. At that time I wasn't even thinking about winning. I was thinking about counting one by one."
Korir began moving through the field "one by one," as he says, working with Bernard Kipyego a la the 2011 Chicago Marathon, where the pair went through the final stages of the race together, with Korir in the runner-up spot and Kipyego in third. "It was déjà vu," Korir said after.
Korir moved up and up, caught Metebo at mile 24, briefly took the lead, then seemed to lose steam as Metebo again pulled away. In the post-race press conference, he would cite cramping, which had began incredibly in mile one.
But Korir rallied right in the final mile under the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and made a surge away from Matebo, who made no challenge. Under the full sun of Boylston Street, Korir claimed his first Boston Marathon win and the biggest win of his life in 2:12:40. "At that moment, it's survival of the fittest. I was confident if it [came] down to the wire," he said.
Matebo would claim the runner-up in 2:13:06, and Kipyego would again finish third in 2:13:13. American Jason Hartmann, who has a 2:11:06 best set in a muggy 2010 Chicago Marathon, was fourth in 2:14:31. Wilson Chebet, who has a 2:05:27 PR from Rotterdam last year, rounded out the top five in 2:14:56.
Gebre Gebremariam, the 2010 New York City champion, was with the leaders at the initial break, but would fade to a 17th-place, 2:22:56 finish. Mutai would withdraw at 30K, and American Nick Arciniaga, who has a 2:11:30 best set in Houston, 2011, would also not finish, pulling up at 25K after due to stomach issues.
In the women's race, in which the last four years have come down to a matter of four seconds or less, it was, thrillingly, business as usual. Defending Boston champ Caroline Kilel, who narrowly defeated American Desiree Davila last year, was the one to watch. And she would remain in the lead pack for the first part of the race. But it was Cherop, who was seventh in a PR 2:22:39 at Dubai in January, that would take the race by the horns and started driving the train.
Cherop injected a 5:23 13th mile through Wellesley to do the initial damage and would knock one by one off the back of the pack, including 2011 NYC champ Firehiwot Dado and Kilel.
It came down to Cherop and Jemima Sumgong, who has a 2:28:32 best set last year in Castellon, eyeing each other in the last mile. Cherop was third last year in Boston, broken by Davila coming onto Boylston street. Cherop has had a whole year to remember that moment, saying in the press conference, "I was really prepared this time around."
With the turn onto Boylston, Cherop unleashed a track-style kick around Boston's version of the Bowerman Curve, legs curling seemingly to her lower back, which was fitting since she set her 10,000m PR of 32:03.0 last summer at altitude in Nairobi. It was such a flip of the switch that it made those watching wonder if she'd misjudged. After all, 600 meters, the length to the finish, is a deceptive distance. But though Sumgong did seem to rally, she wasn't able to respond, finishing in 2:31:52 to Cherop's 2:31:50.
"I stuck to the plan," Cherop said. "It's not my first time running the hot and the humid."
In third was Georgina Rono, who has a 2:24:33 best set last year in Eindhoven. Dado was fourth in 2:34:56, and Diana Singei was fifth in 2:35:40. Kilel would not finish. The top American spot went to Sheri Piers of Falmouth, Maine, in 2:41:55.
Top Photo: Wesley Korir
Bottom Photo: Sharon Cherop