2017 Boston Marathon men's preview: Top Americans, favorites, runners to watch

Thursday April 13th, 2017

BOSTON – The 121st running of the Boston Marathon will take place on Monday, April 17, and the Boston Athletic Association did not disappoint with its elite fields for the race.

Despite withdrawals due to injury by former world record holder Patrick Makau and current world record holder Dennis Kimetto, the men’s field is deep. There are five men that boast personal bests under 2:05 and four U.S. Olympians in contention.

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For the first time in years, there is a chance that an American man and woman could be the first across the finish line on Boylston Street.

Let’s take a moment to examine the men’s elite field for Monday’s race.

Who is the favorite this year?

On paper, Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai has the fastest personal best of the field with his 2:03:13 from the 2014 Berlin Marathon. He is the sixth-fastest marathoner of all-time (if you count Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop’s Boston Marathon times from 2011). Having the fastest personal best doesn’t guarantee a victory in Boston, which is a race without pacers and with a course that is the farthest thing from flat, such as London or Berlin. Mutai’s fastest time since that Berlin race was a 2:07:46 in Berlin a year later. The window of dominance for some Kenyan marathoners is about three to four years before a decline and Mutai could be in that phase.

The next fastest is Kenya’s Sammy Kitwara (2:04:28 personal best) and he could finally get his moment. He took sixth in Boston last year and then ran 2:05 in Amsterdam in the fall and won the Taipei Marathon. He’s consistently in the sub 2:10 range and past champions in Boston fall in that range. He could be the favorite but a repeat is always in the cards.

Who won last year?

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Ethiopia’s Lemi Berhanu Hayle ended Lelisa Desisa’s bid for a third Boston title. He’s just 22 years old and is coming off a victory in January’s Xiamen Marathon in China, where he ran 2:08:27. The weather looks as thought it will be similar to last year, so if things line up, he could follow a similar plan and win again. If a tailwind becomes a possibility and the weather looks more like 2011’s 2:03:02 win by Geoffrey Mutai, Hayle has the wheels to go fast with his 2:04:33 personal best, which is the third fastest of the field.

Who are some dark horses to watch?

With East African runners who run sparingly before a spring marathon it’s tough to judge their level of fitness. Boston can sometimes be the springboard for an unknown runner to breakthrough.

Ethiopian veteran Yemane Tsegay took third last year and is the next-best returner from 2016. Kenya’s Wilson Chebet is forever engraved in our memory as the orange singlet chasing down Meb Keflezighi down Boylston in 2014. He’s back for his fourth Boston Marathon and he’s never finished outside of the top five.

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Kenya hasn’t had a men’s champion since Wesley Korir in 2012. 24-year-old Geoffrey Kirui can propel himself into stardom by ending the drought. He ran 2:07 and 2:06 for his first two marathons and is on the cusp of a big race.

Who is the top American hopeful?

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Galen Rupp won his marathon debut at the Olympic Trials in February 2016 and then took bronze at the Olympics in August. This will be his first major marathon since then, and he may not be as healthy as during his lead-up to Rio. In January, he scratched from the Houston Half Marathon due to plantar fasciitis. Earlier this month he ran 61:51 in Prague earlier in this month but cited a foot injury. A disappointing half before Boston is no red flag. Rupp will be in contention for the win. He’s fared well in a race without pacers and he’s not fazed by a field with men much faster than him. There’s no win probability stat in running, but I’d estimate the chances of Rupp winning are greater than 50%. If Rupp wins, he would be the first American to win Boston since Meb Keflezighi in 2014.

The other Americans to watch would be U.S. Olympians Jared Ward and Abdi Abdirahman. Ward took sixth at the Olympics in Rio. Abdirahman, now 40 years old, was the top American in New York last November with his third place finish overall.

How is Meb?

Kent Horner/Getty Images for Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series

This will be Keflezighi’s final Boston Marathon and the 25th marathon of his career. Keflezighi has said that since winning Boston and since turning 40, everything in his career has been icing on the cake. He’ll turn 42 next month, and it’s safe to say there’s a lot of icing on that cake. He made one last Olympic team last year and finished 33rd in Rio despite fluid issues and cramping that forced him to stop. Fans get to see the 2014 champion one last time. It looks to be more of a farewell tour but then again, Keflezighi has surprised us in Boston before.

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How can I watch?

The Boston Marathon will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network and online with NBC Sports Live at 8:30 a.m. ET. I will be on-site in Boston providing live updates on Twitter.

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