Thursday, April 24, 2014

Boston Marathon Winner

In a previous post I described the current level of competition between countries/continents in the marathon and specifically the Boston Marathon.  The dominance of Africa in the marathon was discussed at length and recent times for the winners of past Boston Marathon events were shown as the times descended and the winners were represented by African countries.  It was also mentioned that recently, the range of expectation has changed to where I thought it would allow an athlete representing a non-African country to win the race.

Monday this came true.

Meb Kflezighi (USA) won the Boston Marathon and set a personal record in the process (not bad for an almost 39 year old).  There are a couple of interesting things about his win in the Boston Marathon that I think allow for a shift in the way spectators and participants view this race.

As can be seen in the graph below, spectators and runners alike had a mutual understanding that of all the countries represented the chances of a non-African country winning were slim from the sheer numbers of African runners that can run the kind of times needed to win.  Meb's win changes that expectation for participants who on their best day could run in the 2:07-2:10 range.

For spectators, it allows for a shift in understanding about the variance in races.  Seven of the runners in the elite field had run a marathon in under 2:05.  Relative to the potential of the field and past times, the race this year was not run remarkably fast at least for these athletes.  As can be seen below this time was very comparable (within 1 minute) of the last time this race was won by American Greg Meyer in 1983.

In 1983 Greg Meyer ran a race time that was faster than what could be "expected" to win the race at that time ("expected" that is within the confidence interval).  30 years later our expectations change again where the times of 30 years ago can win races.

I think variance in this regard is healthy for the interest in a sport.  It increases the interest of spectators because the possibilities are more wide-ranging and (arguably) the race is more entertaining.  It provides hope to all marathon runners who can run times within what could be "expected".  Meb's win also provides inspiration across age groups who may have seen running as a mid-20s to early 30s sport.  This next year's Boston Marathon will no doubt see a very competitive field like previous races.  The shifting expectations about this race will hopefully lead to increased participation from athletes and heightened interest by spectators.