BAA to ask for marathon record

Seeks recognition of Monday’s victor

By John Powers
Globe Staff / April 20, 2011

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The Boston Athletic Association will ask the International Association of Athletics Federations to recognize Geoffrey Mutai’s winning time in Monday’s Boston Marathon as a world record for a 26.2-mile race, even though the course doesn’t conform to the ruling body’s standards because of its steep drop in elevation.

“We’ll do it as much as anything out of respect for the guy who won the race,’’ stated executive director Tom Grilk, who said the BAA would file the standard form requesting that Mutai’s clocking of 2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds be accepted as the new global mark.

Mutai, a 29-year-old Kenyan who had never seen the Boston course until last week, completed it nearly a minute faster than the recognized marathon record of 2:03:59 that Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie established for the same distance on Berlin’s flat course in 2008 with the help of runners hired to set a fast pace.

Times may get faster. C3.

Although the IAAF includes Boston performances on its all-time list and acknowledges on its website that Mutai’s time is the “fastest marathon ever,’’ the federation will not recognize it as a world record because the course, by its standards, has an excessive elevation drop.

Nor will USA Track & Field, which generally follows international standards, certify Ryan Hall’s 2:04:58 as an American record, although the domestic federation will count Boston times toward qualification for the Olympic trials in Houston in January.

The IAAF, which once listed only “world bests’’ in the marathon because of the difference in course layouts, now certifies official records with topographical restrictions that discourage race organizers from creating artificially fast courses. The decrease in elevation between start and finish cannot exceed an average of 1 meter per kilometer. Boston’s elevation drops from 145 meters (475 feet) in Hopkinton to 5 meters (16 feet) in Copley Square, a net decrease of 140 meters along a 42.2-kilometer course.

“I have no animosity toward anybody in the IAAF,’’ said Grilk. “They have to make sure that someone doesn’t have a tricked-up course with phony times. But I don’t think anybody would say that this is a tricked-up course.’’

Of the world’s five major marathons — New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Boston — only Boston does not conform to specifications that also rule out courses where the as-the-crow-flies distance between start and finish is more than 13.1 miles. Since the traditional Boston course does not meet Olympic requirements, the organizers switched to a flat loop layout in the Back Bay and along the Charles River for the 2008 trials that determined the US women’s team for the Beijing Games.

But the BAA has no plans to abandon its historic Patriots Day route that has remained essentially the same since the start was switched from Ashland to Hopkinton in 1924 to match the Olympic distance of 26 miles 385 yards.

“I’d be astonished if there was any consideration given to changing the course,’’ said Grilk. “If you run up and down the Charles River, then you’ve got Rotterdam.’’

Boston’s storied layout, which is reminiscent of the original Marathon-to-Athens route in Greece, is renowned for its quirkiness and its landmarks, most notably Heartbreak Hill adjacent to Boston College.

“This is a time-tested course,’’ said Rob de Castella, who established a world best on the Fukuoka course in Japan before he broke the record here in 1986, the first year that prize money was offered. “Most of the great marathoners in the world have run here.’’

While the first 5 miles and last 5 miles essentially are downhill, the three formidable Newton inclines between 17 and 21 miles give the course its distinctive flavor and make it decidedly more challenging than “pancake’’ layouts like London’s.

“It’s way harder, without a doubt,’’ said Hall, who bettered the American record that was set by Khalid Khannouchi nine years ago in London. “You don’t get the time back that you lose going up the hills. And the downhills do beat you up a little bit.’’

The 19th-century quality of the course, with its carnival-ride ups and downs and its two sharp turns in the final half-mile, long has lured marathoners who want a unique challenge. Mutai, who watched the race on television at home in the Kenyan highlands, dreamed of racing here. “My future was here in Boston,’’ he said.

What makes a world record extremely rare here, besides the topography, is that the BAA does nothing to make the race faster. “We have no ‘rabbits,’ ’’ said Grilk. “You have to pick up your own water bottle. We shoot the gun and everybody runs and we see who gets to the finish line first. That’s the way it’s been here for 115 years.’’

John Powers can be reached at

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