On Monday, Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai ran the Boston Marathon faster than anyone in the 115 year history of that race. In fact, Mutai’s time of 2:03:02 was faster than the current world record of 2:03:59 held by Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie.
Mutai now holds the course record for Boston, but his time is not considered a world record. Why? Boston is not officially a world record marathon course. Despite being known for the challenging run up Heartbreak Hill, Boston is considered a downhill race. And, because the runners travel point-to-point instead of in a loop, times can be improved by a tailwind.
Officially, Monday’s runners had the wind at their backs from Hopkinton all the way to Copley Square in Boston. Unofficially, runners told me that the wind just as often seemed to be pushing them in the wrong direction.
Boston Marathon officials have appealed to the IAAF for recognition of Mutai’s record. I’m sure the IAAF won’t ask for my opinion, and I’m not sure what I would say if they did. I would like to think that as a reporter and producer for Only A Game, I am unbiased. But, like many who follow sports, my opinions are just as often supported by my heart as they are by my brain.
Half of my heart wants the record to stay with Haile Gebrselassie. In 2004, I sat down for an interview with Gebrselassie in a hotel conference room overlooking Boston Harbor. I was nervous. Already the winner of two Olympic gold medals, Gebrselassie was the most decorated athlete I had ever interviewed.
Gebrselassie was warm and welcoming. He told me stories of growing up in Ethiopia, where he ran six miles to school every day and developed his signature running style, with his left arm slightly crooked around imaginary school books.
He told me about how children follow him when he trains on the streets of Addis Ababa, and how he hopes to enter politics to give back to the country he loves so much.
The other half of my heart wants the record to go to Geoffrey Mutai. I watched Monday’s race from the Newton hills, where no one could claim that Boston is a downhill course. When Mutai and the pack glided past me, I was reminded of the wonders of watching runners train in Iten, Kenya.
Mutai is one of hundreds of world-class distance competitors who call Iten home. I visited Iten in 2006, where the red dirt roads are clogged with runners every morning at dawn and goats graze on the infield of the town’s only running track. My heart can never root against a runner from Iten.
Sitting on the other side of our small office, Bill Littlefield tells me that the entire debate is silly. He thinks the record should go to the person who ran 26.2 miles in the fastest time, and that’s that. After all, it’s not like a runner is given an extra two minutes to set a record when the wind is in his face.
The IAAF didn’t always recognize world records for the marathon. Because every road course is unique, the IAAF believed that comparing times from different courses was problematic. But, sponsors and fans want a world record, so in 2004 the IAAF issued rules to define a “world record” course. The Boston Marathon is older than the IAAF itself, but its course did not qualify.
So, while my brain still remains confused about who should hold the official world record, my heart has decided that, at least in my book, the honor belongs to both Haile Gebrselassie and Geoffrey Mutai.