Shooting the breeze over Boston performancesApril 20, 2011
By Mihira Lakshman
Around the world, runners and scientists have been musing about Monday’s historic run when Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai ran a “world best” 2:03:02. How much was the 30 kilometre-per-hour tailwind worth for the top finishers? Some, like Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas say as much as three to four minutes.
But as Boston Globe writer John Powers put it: “Any marathoner who has raced both here and on a hardtop pancake can tell you that Mutai’s effort was decidedly more of an accomplishment than Haile Gebrselassie’s recognized 2:03:59 mark set three years ago on Berlin’s ironing board with paid rabbits setting the pace with chronometric precision.”
Boston officials have announced that they will still apply to the IAAF to have the world record ratified. They don’t have much have a leg to stand on, however, as the rules have been clear for decades. As difficult as the Boston course may be, it still exceeds the limits for elevation drop and the start line is too far away from the finish (making it possible for runners to benefit from a strong tailwind).
But when Mutai called on the IAAF to recognize his record, did Boston officials really have any other choice than to go to bat for him? After all, they needed to show solidarity with Mutai, especially after he made history in Copley Square, bringing the Boston marathon worldwide attention. Will this further increase the demand to get into the race?
The great American runner and coach Alberto Salazar told the New York Times there’s no way the record should count. “The downhill nature of the course coupled with the wind (a 33-kilometre-per hour tail wind) which only helps on a point to point course gives about a two-minute advantage. If this time was allowed, soon marathons could be formulated with these advantages in mind and times would be much faster.”
The integrity of the sport would be in jeopardy, he said, if the IAAF counts Mutai’s Boston run as a world record. What’s mind-boggling is that in the 115-year history of the event, the performances rarely seemed inflated as a result of the course. The usual post-race comments went something like “oh, a 2:08, that’s not a bad time for Boston.” The race is generally known for heartbreak hill, but perhaps now it will be better remembered for the (wind-at-my) Back Bay.
Despite all the rules, regulations and scientific backing, it still seems somewhat strange that the most prestigious footrace is ineligible for a world record.
In the end, the joke it seems is on Geoffrey Mutai. A relatively unknown runner (to the masses), despite his impressive credentials (2:04:54 at the 2010 Rotterdam Marathon), Mutai said he never set out to break the world record, but the perfect storm of conditions led to an unbelievable performance.
“I was not trying to break the world record,” he said. “But I see this as a gift from God.” Some gift.
Is there anything worse than shattering the world record — on a notoriously difficult course — only to realize it doesn’t count? Somewhere up there, somebody must be chuckling. Just don’t expect Mutai to share in the laugh.