Defending champion Caroline Rotich of Kenya can anticipate some rough and tumble team tactics from the half-dozen Ethiopian runners capable of dethroning her.
A Kenyan woman has won the past five Boston Marathons, a fact that doesn’t sit well with the proud and plentiful contingent from Ethiopia. Rotich, who won the 2010 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, will be wearing a lime green and white bull’s eye on her back when the field assembles at the starting line this morning in Hopkinton Center.
“Everyone is trying to get the best race out of themselves and I, too, have to expect that from all of them,” said Rotich, who lives and trains in Santa Fe, N.M. “But at the same time that is what I’m doing and everyone else is doing and they (Ethiopians) are very strong.”
The race is a de facto all-African affair because the top three Americans — Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden and Amy Cragg — are not running. They will represent the United States in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Flanagan has placed in the top 10 in the last three Boston Marathons, so she understands the unique challenges of pack running with world savvy athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya.
“You have all these women from the different countries and they are all so well prepared with the common thread of running and the desire to win the Boston Marathon,” said Flanagan, who will be competing in her fourth Olympic Games. “Just think of all the languages that are being spoken out there in that pack. It is a fun place to be in the middle of that pack, but you are in there with your eyes wide open. You are constantly looking at their form and how they are breathing and trying to decipher who is hurting and not hurting.”
Rotich will not be an island in an Ethiopian sea. The Kenyan group will be bolstered by marathon veterans Joyce Chepkirui, Flomena Cheyech Daniel and Valentine Kipketer.
Ethiopia sent its deepest and strongest team to Boston in this century. The contingent is led by Boston veteran Buzunesh Deba, who owns the second fastest time on the course and was the 2010 Grandma’s Marathon champion. Kenyan Rita Jeptoo (2:18:57) and Buzunesh Deba (2:19:59) became the only women to break the 2:20:00 barrier on April 21, 2014.
Buzunesh Deba will be joined on the line by 2012 Olympic gold medalist and Ethiopian national record holder Tiki Gelana, who set the mark of 2:18:58 at Rotterdam the same year. Tirfi Tsegaye is coming off a spectacular first-place finish at Dubai (2:19:41) on Jan. 22.
“I love this course for its up and downs and I am training on a same type course in Albuquerque (N.M.),” Deba said. “This is a challenging course and all the ladies on our team are big and strong and fast.
“I think we have a strong team. My training is going good and I’m looking for a fast time.”
The Kenyans and the Ethiopians arrived in Boston with a common goal beyond securing the $150,000 purse for winning the race. The Boston Marathon will serve as a time trial to qualify for the Kenyan and Ethiopian Olympic teams that will compete in Brazil. Despite her recent success, Rotich needs a strong showing in Boston to attain Kenyan eligibility.
“Right now I can only focus on this one and wait for it to be selected,” she said. “I know I have to run well here, but I don’t know how it is going to be chosen for the team.
“But yes I would love to represent Kenya (in the Olympics) and I’m going for it here. I’m going to do the best I can.”
● On the men’s side, defending champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia returns to seek a third title in an evenly matched field with no clear favorite.
Desisa has raced in only nine marathons and won three, including victories in Boston last year and in 2013 when a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs ripped through the crowd at the finish line, killing three people and injuring about 260.
Known as a tactical racer with an ability to sprint at the end, Desisa posted a personal best of 2:04:45 in Dubai in 2013 and won Boston in 2:09:17 last year.
Fellow Ethiopian Lemi Berhanu Hayle, who notched a personal best of 2:04:33 in Dubai in January, has a similarly strong record, having run just five marathons and won three.
Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai enters the race with the fastest personal time of 2:03:02, a course record he set with his 2011 Boston win. Kenyan Wesley Korir whose personal best is 2:06:13 is returning for a fourth time after having won in 2012.
Kenyan Stephen Chebogut, who won Eindhoven in 2:05:52 last year when he took two minutes off his personal best, is also considered a strong contender.