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Marathon Notebook

Keflezighi, Hall give US strong 1-2 punch

By John Powers
Globe Staff / April 19, 2010

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Ryan Hall still was in diapers the last time an American man won the Boston Marathon. But with the country’s two best runners in Hall and Meb Keflezighi lining up this morning for the 114th edition, the United States has its best chance at claiming the laurel wreath since Greg Meyer won in 1983.

“It’s become the norm that an African will win a major race,’’ acknowledges Hall, who was third in his debut here last year. “But Meb won in New York. It’s just a matter of time.’’

Keflezighi, who ended a 27-year domestic drought in Manhattan last November, would be the first US male to win consecutive races there and here since Alberto Salazar in 1982.

But he and Hall will be up against seven foreigners who’ve broken 2 hours 7 minutes — Ethiopian defending champion Deriba Merga, countryman Chala Dechase, Kenya’s Gilbert Yegon, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, Elijah Keitany, and David Kipkorir Mandago, plus Morocco’s Abderrahim Goumri, whose personal best of 2:05:30 is the field’s fastest.

“They’re not making it any easier for Ryan or me,’’ says Keflezighi, who was third here in 2006. “But we want to be the best in the world.’’

Meyer, who will be on hand today, says he’s surprised that no other Yank has won it in 27 years.

“I thought I’d win again,’’ he says. “We had three guys under 2:10 that day (Meyer, Ron Tabb, and Benji Durden) and a bunch of guys under 2:12. I assumed it would keep going. It’s been overdue.’’

When he’s wearing his Red Sox cap, Meyer is a dead ringer for manager Terry Francona and has turned more than a few heads in the Hub. “I wish that would get me in the gate,’’ chuckles Meyer, who would love to meet the town team’s skipper.

Though he grew up in Michigan, Meyer didn’t see a major league game until he attended one at Fenway in 1978. Now, he’s sworn to the Nation.

“Life wouldn’t get any better than having a seat on top of The Wall on a warm summer night,’’ says Meyer, who threw out the first ball on Marathon Weekend two years ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his victory.

Return engagement
Thirty years since she won the Boston Marathon after Rosie Ruiz broke the tape, Jacqueline Gareau will take the line in Hopkinton for an anniversary run.

Gareau, who is remarkably trim and fit at 57, hasn’t run a 26-miler since she returned for the 100th race in 1996, but she figures she can go somewhere between 3:15 and 3:30 if an iffy Achilles’ tendon cooperates.

Gareau, who officially was awarded the 1980 laurel wreath a week after Ruiz was determined to have cheated, acknowledges that the most bizarre episode in race history ironically has given her an enduring touch of fame.

“I missed the euphoria, the moment,’’ says the Quebec native, who now is a massage therapist and was the race’s grand marshal five years ago. “But it stays with me until I die, I guess.’’

Gareau went on to have a distinguished career on the roads, winning nine of the 30 marathons she entered, finishing fifth in the world championships and competing in the 1984 Olympics. But her proudest achievement, she says, is 17-year-old son Yannick, a talented cross-country skier. “He is my gold medal,’’ Gareau says.

Judging their speed
Kenya’s Salina Kosgei, who nipped Ethiopia’s Dire Tune at the tape last year in the closest finish (1 second) in race history, is hoping for a faster pace this year.

“I don’t think it will be slow,’’ says Kosgei, who’d be the first champion to repeat since countrywoman Catherine Ndereba in 2005. “[Last year] was a mistake.’’

Though a stiff headwind was one reason for the slowest winning time (2:32:16) since 1985, Kosgei chalks up the over-deliberate pace to wariness about Kara Goucher.

“We feared each other last year,’’ she says. “We were worried because she was so confident.’’

Goucher isn’t here today, but Tune is and she won’t rule out another photo finish. “All the people here are top runners,’’ says Tune, whose two-second triumph over Russia’s Alevtina Biktimirova in 2008 was previously the closest finish.

“We stay together. It doesn’t split until the last moment.’’

Fine forecast
The forecast — cloudy, around 50 degrees, quartering tailwind about 10 miles per hour — is about as good as it gets for marathoners here during this week in April. “Almost ideal,’’ reckons race director Dave McGillivray. “We don’t have 85-degree weather. We don’t have high-gusting winds. We don’t have pouring rain.’’

Chase back on
The World Marathon Majors chase resumes today with 2008-09 champions Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and Irina Mikitenko of Germany atop the standings, which cover a two-year cycle. If either Merga or Keflezighi wins here, he’ll share the men’s lead with Wanjiru, and if Kosgei retains her crown she’ll take over the top spot on the women’s side. Wanjiru and Mikitenko likely would regain their perches after Sunday’s race in London, where the field will be typically top-notch. The male contenders number six sub-2:06ers including three-time victor Martin Lel and world champ Abel Kirui. The women’s group has Olympic gold medalist Constantina Dita, former champion Deena Kastor, Chicago titlist Liliya Shobukhova, and Berlin winner Atsede Habtamu. The year-end winners each collect $500,000 . . . Joan Benoit Samuelson, who last ran the race in 1996, says she considered lacing up today. “I was tempted to jump in, but I have a hamstring that just won’t quit,’’ said the two-time champion, who ran the Olympic trials here in 2008 and in New York last year. Samuelson may run Chicago in the fall to mark the 25th anniversary of her setting the American record (2:21:21) in 1985, which still is the third-fastest US mark of all time. In fact, Samuelson still owns four of the top eight.

Silver anniversary
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his second victory here is Geoff Smith, who was the final man to win before prize money was offered. “I was the last dinosaur,’’ he said. After his easy triumph earned him a place on the British team for the Los Angeles Olympics, Smith returned here for another go rather than run in Europe for cash. “I felt if I came here and set the world on fire, the glory and everything that is associated with it would come,’’ he said. “The glory came, but everything that was associated with it didn’t.’’ Though he ran Boston several times afterward, he didn’t bid for a third straight title in 1986. “It was politics,’’ says Smith, who’s now a US citizen living in Mattapoisett. “I’ll leave it at that.’’ . . . Morocco’s Abdellah Falil, who’d hoped to find a way out of Paris in time for today’s start, still is stranded because of the air travel problems caused by the still-fuming Iceland volcano and won’t make it here.