HOPKINTON-TO-BOSTON, April 17 — Eliud Kipchoge’s much anticipated quest to add Boston to his bucket list of World Marathon Major wins came a cropper in the 31st kilometer when Tanzanian Gabriel Geay attacked the third of the four Newton Hills.
The hard surge dispatched Kipchoge, but Kenyan teammates Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto — training partners and winners of the past two Patriots’ Day races — rallied to catch Geay. The three waged a stirring battle over the final 5K with the 34-year-old Chebet able to pull clear to defend his title in 2:05:54.
Chebet, the winner of 6 of his past 7 marathons, reveled, “I’m happy because I know this race, I won it last year and now this year. Coach [Claudio Berardelli] told me to go out with Benson. As teammates we train together, so it was a mutual agreement that we would keep pace together and this worked out well.”
Geay (2:06:04) finished 2nd, edging ahead of Kipruto (2:06:06) in the final 200m, and Kipchoge — in his first effort outside the winner’s circle since London ’20 when he finished 8th — came home 6th in 2:09:23.
After the race Kipchoge released a statement admitting, “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 new height.”
Scott Fauble repeated as the top American, again finishing 7th (2:09:44), with local hero Matt McDonald 10th (2:10:17). Conner Mantz spent much of the race in the lead group, but struggled mightily over the final mile to finish 11th in 2:10:25. Afterwards former BYU standout Mantz reported nearly blacking out, his field of vision shrinking in the last 2M.
A light rain had begun to fall as the runners took their place on the starting line, yet it did little to deter Kipchoge, who hit the front right from the gun. Throwing caution aside, the WR holder led a downhill romp through the opening 5K in 14:17.
As the rain eased, the hot pace continued and a pack of 12 crossed 10K in 28:52 (14:35 split) with Mantz and CJ Albertson still in the lead group.
The tempo slowed as the rain resumed and the runners coped with 50-degree (10C) temperatures, and a slight 2–4mph (c1–2mps) headwind. A pair of 15:05 segments followed as the lead group pressed on through steady rain to cross halfway in 62:19.
With their ever-squeaky super-shoes splashing through puddles, Kipchoge and John Korir led the charge down the steep descent to the Charles River Bridge at 25K, a move that dropped Mantz, Albertson, Zouhair Talbi and Mark Korir from the lead pack heading into Newton and its hills.
As the rain let up, Kipchoge appeared to be in his usual fine form, with an ever-smooth stride and eyes wide open, taking in the Patriots’ Day tradition. The marathon’s Superman looked comfortable heading up the first longer but not-so-steep climb, as well as the second short-but-steep rise shortly after making the Firehouse Turn at 28K.
Passing 30K in 1:29:23, the lead pack was down to 6 Kenyans and Geay, when the Tanzanian launched his attack at the base of the third hill, and quickly opened a 20-meter gap on the winding climb.
“It was my dream to beat Kipchoge,” the 26-year-old Geay said. “I was trying to see who would drop off. When I looked back and did not see Kipchoge I thought I did a good job.”
Geay had a breakout year in ’22, finishing 4th in Boston, 7th in the Eugene WC race, and 2nd in Valencia running a Tanzanian NR 2:03:00 good for equal-No. 8 with Chebet on the all-time list. His challenge was fully respected by his Kenyan rivals.
Kipruto said, “The attack was surprising for me. We have never seen him fighting like today, and we had to follow. We knew the guy from last year when he went with Evans but had to respect that this year he had more experience and strength.”
As Kipruto and Evans moved to catch Geay, Albert Korir and Kipchoge quickly fell off the pace and out of contention.
A day after the race, Kipchoge rejected media second-guessing of his front-running strategy and queries about difficulties with the rain and hills. He asserted that it was a physical issue: “My left leg actually was not coming up anymore. I think that’s where the problem is. I tried to do it but it was not working so I put my mind just to run a comfortable pace, just to finish.”
With his focus on Geay, Chebet said, “I did not observe Kipchoge,” adding that “Eliud was not so much of a threat because the bottom line was that we trained well. Our confidence in the quality of our training made us feel good about taking on this race.”
The race was certainly on with Chebet and Geay pushing the pace up and down Heartbreak Hill. Kipruto was able to cling to their tempo, but first Andualem Belay and then John Korir could not keep up.
The 3 remaining racers tore down Beacon Street amongst growing and boisterous crowds. As Geay and Chebet went toe-to toe on one side of the road, Kipruto hugged the opposite curb, closing a 10-meter gap and edging ahead at 40K.
Just as he hit the front, the ’21 champ began to falter, later saying, “It was a hard battle and I had some small problems with the hamstring that started with the water splashing.”
Geay moved back in front with 2K of dramatic racing left. “At that point,” he said, “we didn’t know who was going to be the first one, or the second, or the third. I was fighting with Evans and I thought, ‘Maybe I can do it,’ but at the end I could see that he was stronger.”
Indeed, Chebet broke clear before the Massachusetts Ave. underpass with a kilometer to go, and built a 50-meter lead before crossing the Boylston Street finish line with his second straight Boston title in hand.
On a day that the marathon’s most revered runner took on the most revered course, it was mission accomplished for the determined Chebet, who triumphed in one of the most competitive races in recent Boston history.
“From a teamwork perspective,” he said, “it was our hope that one of us on the team would win. For me, I was doing my best to defend my title, so that was what you saw.”
Chebet and Kipruto’s efforts had Coach Berardelli smiling with delight: “It was a special day for us. We had big expectations, but it was an extra challenge having Eliud Kipchoge in the race. We came here with maybe a bit of advantage because they are both past champions and they know Boston very well. I have learned that the first time in Boston maybe you aren’t very lucky; Benson was 10th [in ’19] and Evans did not finish [in ’18].
“What played to Evans’ advantage was it was his 28th marathon so he knows himself, how to understand his body, and not to make the wrong move. Experience paid off today.”
As for Kipchoge, this setback speaks as much to his remarkable string of marathon performances that had survived the marathon’s great unpredictability. The 2-time Olympic champ now looks ahead to repeating his gold medal efforts in Paris, among other prospects.
“I live for the moments where I get to challenge the limit,” he said. “It is never guaranteed, it is never easy. In sports you win and you lose and there is always tomorrow to set a new challenge. I’m excited for what lies ahead.”
BOSTON MEN’S RESULTS
1. Evans Chebet (Ken) 2:05:54 (1:02:20/1:03:34); 2. Gabriel Gerald Geay (Tan) 2:06:04; 3. Benson Kipruto (Ken) 2:06:06; 4. Albert Korir (Ken) 2:08:01; 5. Zouhair Talbi (Mor) 2:08:35;
6. Eliud Kipchoge (Ken) 2:09:23; 7. Scott Fauble (US) 2:09:44; 8. Hassan Chahdi (Fra) 2:09:46; 9. John Korir (Ken) 2:10:04; 10. Matt McDonald (US) 2:10:17; 11. Conner Mantz (US) 2:10:25; 12. CJ Albertson (US) 2:10:33; 13. Nicolas Montañez (US) 2:10:52;… 17. JP Flavin (US) 2:13:27; 18. Turner Wiley (US) 2:13:57;… 20. Chad Hall (US) 2:14:13.