Feminism

No, Meb Keflezighi Was Not the First American to Win the Boston Marathon Since 1983

If you have watched or read any news lately then you know that yesterday at the Boston Marathon Meb Keflezighi was the first American to win since 1983. It’s a momentous occasion and even more meaningful coming after last year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Meb Keflezighi, an Olympic silver medalist in 2004 is almost 39 years old and lost his Nike sponsorship as recently as 2011. Most considered him past his prime and yet he ran an inspired race yesterday to become the first American to win Boston since 1983. We know this because it’s what a lot of headlines are saying.

Here’s WTKR News in Virginia:

Meb Keflezighi is first American to win Boston Marathon since 1983

And ABC7 News in Detroit:

American Meb Keflezighi wins the Boston Marathon, first American to win since 1983

NBC KHQ in Washington:

First American Wins Boston Marathon since 1983

And, it’s not just local news stations. Here is the Washington Post’s headline:

Meb Keflezighi is the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983

Even Runner’s World celebrated his win on Facebook.

Meb Keflezighi wins the Boston Marathon! It's the first time an American has won Boston since 1983.

There’s only one problem with all these headlines. Meb Keflezighi’s win yesterday wasn’t the first time an American has won the Boston Marathon since 1983. You see, in 1985 American Lisa Larsen Weidenbach won the Boston Marathon. Does her win not really count because she is a woman?

I don’t mean to take anything from Meb’s win yesterday because what he did was astounding and inspiring and he was the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1985 and the first man to win since 1983!

That’s a pretty big deal. We can celebrate that without resorting to the erasure of the accomplishments of women runners.

Featured photo from AP. 

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Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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53 Comments

  1. Most of the sources I was reading (boston.com; Runner’s World website and feed; WBZ stream) were getting it mostly right (in some cases correcting within minutes, which was exactly enough time for me to gnash my teeth first).

    While giving appropriate credit to other divisions, it’s worth remembering Meb was the first American to win Boston since Tatyana McFadden, about forty-five minutes before.

    1. I was going to make a very similar comment. Jean Driscoll won EIGHT TIMES, including 7 in a row from 1990-1996. I remember watching her go by in 1997, and then later watching as her wheel got caught in the track causing her crash, which was heartbreaking for her.

    1. Are you claiming that Geoff Smith was an American (he was a senior at Providence College in Rhode Island when he won in 1984, don’t know where he lived in 1985, and he now lives in Massachusetts, but he was a British citizen and ran as such), or that Lisa Larsen did not win in 1985 because Smith had a better time? If the latter, then why are you ignoring the winning times in the wheelchair divisions, which are usually faster than the runners (1:54 for the men’s winner, 2:05 for the women’s in the same year.)?

      1. Call it the patriarchy or whatever you prefer, but the most accurate meaning of “the winner of the Boston Marathon” is the person who ran the race in the fastest time. Not the wheelchair division, not the female division, not any special division you prefer, but the fastest runner.

        1. There is no winner, then, because not everyone competed together. It’s a false competition. And not competing together changes the potential outcome.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/sports/for-womens-road-records-only-women-only-races-will-count.html

          I always wonder, if women had been allowed to actively compete with men since our earliest evolution, and experience the same selective competition, then how would both sexes would be in present day? Like other species where sexes differ greatly than our own?

          Anyways, it doesn’t matter if you get beat, but you can’t get better or evolve if you’re denied the chance to try. And I think that’s the primary factor that guides sexism – a specific breed of men that always wants to separate themselves from women. You can’t let the underdog gain experience, barring them from the track, the lab, whatever. I’m saying this as an asian man who sees this stupidity every day.

        2. Uh, no. There is no “winner of the Boston Marathon.” There is a men’s division winner and a woman’s division winner and a wheelchair men’s winner and a wheelchair women’s winner. All of these are separate races that start at different times. Men and women do not compete against each other. It is not a time trial where you can take the time from one of the races and compare it to the time of another race. Racers adjust their own speed based on the speed of the people around them so it would be completely wrong and also completely unfair to take the time of a runner from one race and compare it to the time of a runner from a different race assuming that that’s what would have happened had they been competing against each other.

          1. I asserted that the reason the media is claiming Meb to be the first US winner of the Boston Marathon since 1983 is because the commonly understood meaning of “winning the Boston Marathon” is being the runner with the fastest time. Your counter claims are:
            A. There is no winner of the Boston Marathon
            B. Men and women do not compete against each other
            C. It is not a time trial where you can… compare… time
            D. Racers adjust their own speed… unfair to take the time of a runner from one race and compare it to the time of a runner from a different race.

            There is no “winner of the Boston Marathon”: see your headlines, there is, it’s the fastest runner. “Men and women do not compete against each other” and “it is not a time trial”. It is a time trial: there are different waves competing against each other. Men are women do have separate divisions, but it is because women are inherently less capable runners than men, not because of some aesthetic (or sexist) preference to “not compete against each other”. Furthermore, everyone here including you, knows that you would not be consistent if a women completed the race in the best time. “Racers adjust their speed”: So the only thing holding women back from beating men is the lack of better competition to “adjust their speed” against?

            All of this hand wringing to cling to your belief that the media is out to get women. I guess that is the natural result of a belief system which is so critical to your identity.

          2. Ha! You’re list of things that I apparently “said” isn’t even true. I never said there was no winner of the Boston Marathon. I never said that women as a group would be running at the same speed as men if they were competing against each other. These are literally things that you just made up.

            I did say that the marathon is not a time trial and that is factually correct. You are right that the runners start in waves. But, a runner from a wave starting after the elite runners cannot win the marathon even if his/her time is faster than the actually marathon winners. You have to start with the other elite runners in order to be considered a winner.

          3. To be fair, I am pleased to see that you didn’t delete my post. Secondly, I was not aware that a runner from wave 2 who beats the top time from the elite waves would not be considered a winner. Is this a fact, or something that has simply never occurred? But, as to you not “saying things”, here are the quotes to which I referred:

            1. “Uh, no. There is no “winner of the Boston Marathon.””
            2. “Men and women do not compete against each other.”
            3. ” It is not a time trial where you can take the time from one of the races and compare it to the time of another race.”
            4. “Racers adjust their own speed based on the speed of the people around them so it would be completely wrong and also completely unfair to take the time of a runner from one race and compare it to the time of a runner from a different race assuming that that’s what would have happened had they been competing against each other.”

            The things I “literally made up” (you said that too), come from your post made on April 28, 2014, 1:01 pm.

        3. No, the “most accurate meaning” of “the winner of the Boston Marathon” is who the Boston Marathon itself says the winners are. Here is what the Boston Marathon’s website says about the 1985 race: ” Lisa Larsen Weidenbach, the 1984 U.S. women’s Olympic Marathon alternate, ran uncontested to the finish to win Boston in her first attempt.”

          http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/boston-marathon-history/race-summaries/1981-1985.aspx

    2. You are arguing on a technicality that doesn’t actually exist within the realm of the sport. Sure, you can make the argument that TECHNICALLY the male winner is the overall winner, but that’s not how the sport is set up. The sport has men’s divisions AND women’s divisions, so the “technicality” you are arguing is meaningless.

  2. Are we really having this discussion?

    “It’s not a time trial where you can take the time from one of the races and compare it to the time of another race.” Wrong.

    http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/event-information/course-map.aspx

    Men and women run the same course.

    http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/marathon-weekend/marathon-monday.aspx

    Elite women start the race 28 minutes before elite men, which actually gives them the advantage of not having to negotiate as many other runners on the course as do the men. The only major group to start before the elite women are the wheelchair racers, who are generally faster than runners.

    Elite women’s times and elite men’s times in this specific race are therefore directly comparable, and the winner of the women’s division has never finished with a time faster than the winner of the men’s division although the gap has shortened considerably.

    These are facts. This isn’t sexism or the patriarchy talking – in almost every case at the extreme edges of the athletic performance bell curve elite women can not compete with elite men.

    If you’d like to argue that this is unfair, that men and women of elite athletic performance should compete on the same playing field, then make that argument. But what you can’t do is claim that there are “no winners” because they’re not really doing the same thing – they clearly are doing the same thing.

    1. It doesn’t matter if the course is the same. They aren’t competing against each other and the race is not a time trial. The runners are not racing the clock. They are racing each other and therefore adjust their speed based on the speeds of their competitors. If they don’t start at the same time they cannot be competing against each other because they have no chance to change their own strategy based on what they see from the other competitors. We don’t know what would have happened if men and women were competing together because they were not.

      Linking to the course map doesn’t prove anything. As Eric pointed out above, the Boston Marathon’s own website states ” Lisa Larsen Weidenbach, the 1984 U.S. women’s Olympic Marathon alternate, ran uncontested to the finish to win Boston in her first attempt.” http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/boston-marathon-history/race-summaries/1981-1985.aspx

      1. “The runners are not racing the clock.”

        Of course they are. There is almost no purer form of a time trial than a marathon. Over 26 miles and 2+hours there are few if any chances to “change their own strategy.” A sprinter in a prelim can pull up a bit if she sees that she’s way out in front of the field. Running the 1500 meter race on a track requires a bit of strategy to negotiate other runners in the pack. Marathon runners compare times – that’s it.

        “We don’t know what would have happened if men and women were competing together because they were not.”

        We do know what would happen if men and women competed together in this race. Men would win. The finishing times clearly demonstrate this fact. The Olympics have separate competitions based on sex not because the people who run the games are raging misogynists, but because women would rarely medal were they on the same playing field.

        I agreed with your original point – the last American to win the Boston marathon was a woman. But you’re now making a separate and distinct point – that a win in the women’s division isn’t comparable to a win in the men’s division. That’s so clearly wrong I wonder if it’s simple ignorance or some other agenda behind the thought that I’m not getting.

        1. It’s laughable that you think there is more strategy in sprints than marathons. Especially when in last Monday’s race, the strategy of many runners contributed to Meb’s victory.

          And while in some sense marathon runners are racing the clock, it is secondary to the head to head race against the other runners. Finishing time does not determine the winner of a marathon. The winner is determined by who crosses the finish line first.

          1. So let me get this straight. Your argument is that elite women, if allowed to being a marathon at the same time as an elite man and race head to head, would win?

            Upon what data are you basing this assertion?

          2. Actually, that same question could be asked of you. What are you basing your assumption that they couldn’t compete?

            Since there are no head to head races there is no data, to make an assertion with no data is calling guessing, also known as the ass-pull.

          3. “Your argument is that elite women, if allowed to being a marathon at the same time as an elite man and race head to head, would win?” At no point have I made such an argument.

          4. mrmisconception – What am I basing my assertion on? Science: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/sports/olympics/22women.html?_r=0

            See also the list of winning times for the Boston Marathon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_winners_of_the_Boston_Marathon

            One would think, were there not intrinsic biological differences between the sexes, that at some point in the last 50 years the winner of the women’s division would have had a faster time than the winner of the men’s division. It’s never happened.

            Look, if you want to argue that the women’s division should be abolished and both women and men should start the race at the same time, that’s one thing. But to base your argument on the lack of “head to head” races is, in this case, moronic. Rita Jeptoo wasn’t going to run the race 10 minutes faster if she started the course 28 minutes later with the elite men. The fastest marathon ever run by a woman is 2:15:25 – and even if Rita Jeptoo had bested this world record time by 30 seconds she would have barely cracked the top 15 male finishers.

            That I even have to explain any of this is a little startling – men and women are physically different. Period. So why all the fuss?

          5. Because you are making assertions based on assumptions, the strategic differences of running against slower competitors makes a huge difference and you are refusing to acknowledge that, you can use all the statistics you wish but with no head-to-head data it is all speculation.

            In other words which would win in a fight, a tiger or a shark? You can crunch whatever statistics you wish to try to answer that but the answer would be pure speculation.

          6. Erin, you continue to argue against arguments that no one here is actually making. No one said that if men and women ran head to head that they would have equal chances at winning, only that they do not run head to head. No one here said they they think they should run head to head, only that they do not. No one here said there can be no “winners” and in fact pretty much everyone has argued for the opposite.

            I can’t tell if you are purposefully twisting the meanings of what others write in order to create chaos or if you are doing it merely out of haste and lack of reading comprehension. I’m going to assume the latter, so from now on please actually read the comments carefully to determine what they are actually saying and not what you think they are saying before replying.

          7. Mrmisconception is claiming that you cannot compare male and female times because of the effect runners have on one another in a race. In other words, runners will run faster when their competition is faster. The amusing conclusion is that women would run faster (perhaps faster than men) if they had better competition, namely, men. I’m not sure if the appropriate policy solution would be to put a few men in the women’s division to provide some competition, or to put a few women in the men’s division to slow everyone down. Maybe mrmisconception can clear that up for me?

          8. I think it is pretty clear, I said there is no data of men and women running against each other, full stop. I made no conclusion based on that lack of data, I simply pointed out that one can not safely make a conclusion based on no data.

            Would an elite woman runner run faster against men, perhaps enough better to win? I don’t know and don’t claim to know, but then neither do you since it hasn’t happened. You can speculate if you want but it makes for a poor example of rational thinking, that is all I said. You are jumping to conclusions that are not foregone and that’s a bad habit to get into.

          9. Or to make sure you don’t misunderstand me again.

            Mrmisconception is claiming that you cannot compare male and female times because of the effect runners have on one another in a race.

            I agree, that is what I am saying.

            In other words, runners will run faster when their competition is faster.

            No, your restatement of what I said is not correct, that conclusion is not certain. They might run faster or they might not, the men might run faster or not. No data, see?

            The amusing conclusion is that women would run faster (perhaps faster than men) if they had better competition, namely, men.

            I made no such conclusion anywhere, you inferred it even though it wasn’t implied.

            I’m not sure if the appropriate policy solution would be to put a few men in the women’s division to provide some competition, or to put a few women in the men’s division to slow everyone down.

            I’m not sure how to “fix” a problem I didn’t state existed. I do however know how to fix the problem I did say existed, but you are going to have to stop jumping to conclusions for that to happen.

            Maybe mrmisconception can clear that up for me?

            There you go, hope it helped.

          10. Mrmisconceptions, we can either compare the times of men and women or we can’t. If we can’t, why not? Your proposed reason is “who knows what would have happened if they would race against one another!”. Let’s consider top 50 times, if the males and females raced against one another three things could happen, the men would be faster, the women would be faster, or there would be no (significant) change. Currently the men run faster, but what if they competed against the women? The results could be men running faster than before, no change between male and female times, or women running faster than before.

            The only way that men and women racing against each other would result in ambiguous results is if the women responded by running faster. Are you making this substantial claim or simply trying to divert the discussion away from the *fact* that women run this race slower than men?

          11. They don’t run against each other and that is the point, and I made NO CLAIMS. Everything else you said was blah, blah, blah.

            Stop it, you’re embarrassing yourself.

          12. You definitely claimed that times could not be compared because they aren’t running against each other. The claim is either completely empty and meaningless or a suggestion that women would run faster if they ran against men. Which is it?

          13. Jamie – TJ Swift already said it, but here are the quotes: “Uh, no. There is no “winner of the Boston Marathon.” You then went on to say, “it would be completely wrong and also completely unfair to take the time of a runner from one race and compare it to the time of a runner from a different race.” You then further asserted that “It doesn’t matter if the course is the same. They aren’t competing against each other and the race is not a time trial. The runners are not racing the clock. They are racing each other and therefore adjust their speed based on the speeds of their competitors…We don’t know what would have happened if men and women were competing together because they were not.”

            I’m taking the plain and reasonable interpretation of what you’ve written here. And each of the sentences I quoted above, save the first one (which is debatable), is incorrect to some degree. You are correct that I don’t comprehend the point you’re attempting to make above, because the plain reading of what you’ve written doesn’t make any sense.

            And once again, I agree with your original point – the last American to win a division of the Boston marathon was a woman and her achievement should be recognized. But to quibble about not running head to head and to say “we don’t know what would happen” is asinine because we do know what would happen, there is no clearer example of this than a marathon. If you’re backing away from all the sentences I quote above then ok, we have no areas of disagreement.

            mrmisconception – first of all nothing beats a shark, ever :) Second of all, we’re not talking about two different species. We’re talking about comparing female marathon times to male marathon times. Astonishingly simple to do. As for this, “the strategic differences of running against slower competitors makes a huge difference”. Hogwash. There are strategic things happening during a race, sure, but none of those work if you don’t have the physical ability to capitalize on them. In other words, if someone’s best marathon time is 2:18, you can’t use strategic maneuvers to push them to run a 2:08.

            Look at the men’s finishing times for this race in Boston, more than 6 minutes separated the top 15 competitors. The winner on average ran 26 sub-5 minute miles, which translates to about a mile and a quarter of distance between the 1st place finisher and the 15th. That’s a lot of ground and it’s likely the 15th place finisher couldn’t even see the 1st place finisher at the end.

            Here’s another link detailing worldwide marathon times: http://aimsworldrunning.org/statistics/CurrentYearStatistics.htm

            From 2:04 (best male time) to 2:20 (best female time) is 16 minutes – over three miles separation. You can’t overcome three miles of ground with strategy. You now have the burden of proof if you want to claim that the differences in marathon times are due, in whole or in part, to gender segregation during a race and not intrinsic biological differences.

          14. “Jamie – TJ Swift already said it, but here are the quotes: “Uh, no. There is no “winner of the Boston Marathon.” You then went on to say,”

            ~~

            HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO TELL YOU THAT SHE DID NOT SAY THAT. You just took the entire rest of her comment out, erasing the context of what she had to say. STOP IT. You are seriously embarrassing yourself.

  3. TJ SWIFT, you cannot read. She did NOT say there was no winner of the marathon. **THAT IS NOT WHAT SHE SAID**

    Here, let’s go through it again. Here is what she said: ~~Uh, no. There is no “winner of the Boston Marathon.” There is a men’s division winner and a woman’s division winner and a wheelchair men’s winner and a wheelchair women’s winner. ~~~

    She meant that there is no ONE winner of the ENTIRE Boston Marathon and rather there are SEVERAL DIFFERENT WINNERS OF SEVERAL DIFFERENT RACES.

    She then went on to explain that further but obviously you have no ability to read critically.

    1. My point was is that there is a widely understood meaning of “The Winner of the Boston Marathon” as that phrase was used in mass media.

      My point provides a reason for the headlines which is in stark contrast to Jamie’s “it’s sexism, bro”, conclusion. What followed was an exposition in to the wild world of justifying, hand-wringing, and doing anything possible to cling to sexism-based worldview.

      1. You just copy/pasted jamie’s comment again, even after I made it doubly clear that you were misreading her, and instead of going ‘OH OOOPS, my bad, sorry!’ you just continue to ignore my point that you were misreading her comment, and move the goal posts around again?

        Oh, fucking hell.

      2. Oh, hey, no that was ERIN who also misread Jamie’s comment and is ignoring the fact that JAIME DID NOT IN ANY WAY SAY WHAT YOU TWO ARE CLAIMING. Are you guys the same person? You sound like the same person.

        1. Calm down – I didn’t say I disagreed with the “there is no winner” comment, I just said it was debatable. Every other sentence I quoted I have a problem with. I understand – and agree(!) – with her point about division winners (did you not read my comment on that??). Jamie did say exactly what I quoted, and even with me trying to give her the benefit of the doubt she, along with mrmisconception, is simply wrong.

          1. The data you are using (times for men vs men and times for women vs women) are insufficient to “prove” the point you are trying to make (that men are faster than women) because you are ignoring relevant details (that race strategies change with the strength of your opponent). You can compare the times to each other and you can draw whatever conclusions you wish, if you don’t care that your conclusions are incomplete I can’t make you. But it also doesn’t make me wrong, it just makes you imprecise.

          2. mrmisconception, there is a ridiculous amount of data that shows the fastest men are faster than the fastest women. Literally thousands of men have run a marathon faster than the fastest woman ever (Paula Radcliffe, who is such an exceptional outlier that no other woman has run within three minutes of her world record of 2:15:25, now that Liliya Shobukhova’s 2:18:20 has been invalidated). Most major road races do not have the women run separately from the men. If the woman were capable of running as fast as the men, then we would see them doing so, as it would be hugely advantageous for the generally much smaller woman to keep up with the top men in order to draft off them.

            Also, major road races (especially the World Marathon Majors) typically offer significant prize money for setting a world record. So women have plenty of incentive to try to run faster. In spite of this, no women in the current generation of marathon runners ever makes a world record attempt. Radcliffe’s record is that ridiculously fast for women. Yet 2:15:25 for a man, would be a sub-elite performance at best.

            Many if not most elite women are trained by the same coaches as the elite men. But they don’t workout side by side, because the women cannot train at the same speeds the men can.

            If you want an even more specific example, the Los Angeles Marathon has a “gender challenge” where the women do race the men head-to-head, but are given a significant head start (17:41 in the 2014 race).

          3. @Eric Lesch – I am not saying, and have never said that men aren’t faster than women, just that the data being used from this marathon does not support the assertions being made. My objection was simply about the conclusion jumping, nothing more. The point of the article was simply to show that, once again, the male version of a sport is being considered default and that it shouldn’t be, there was some hasty conclusions being made to show why that was the correct way to view it. Hasty conclusion bug me.

          4. mrmisconception – I’ll do your research for you and make the point you should be making. See this: http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/running/Will-Women-One-Day-Be-Faster-Than-Men.html

            Two points – (1) men are faster than women. The article, written by a woman, doesn’t dispute this. (2) The gap is narrowing, as I said in my original comment. There are several studies which suggest parity in long distance running may at some point be achieved. There’s even some evidence that your point about faster competition has some merit. (But there’s also this: “Long-distance running is one of the only sports where men and women are competing on an the same playing field”)

            Men and women have physiological differences. One would expect these differences to manifest themselves at the extreme edges of elite athletic performance. In short, none of this is surprising. But for some reason your brain doesn’t want to process this information, and there’s no way I can convince someone who is willfully ignorant. So I’m going to stop trying.

          5. @Erin C – You really just aren’t getting this are you? I did not make any conclusion as to whether men or women are faster but you and @TJ Swift did. I was saying that the data you were using could not safely lead to the conclusion you made, not that your conclusion was wrong. Think about it, getting to the right answer for the wrong reason is nearly as bad as being wrong. Are you understanding what I am saying now?

            Stop assuming that I am arguing against your conclusion rather than the method used to get there, please. I’m done beating my head against this particular wall. Just do yourself and everyone else a favor and make sure that the data you are using to bolster an argument actually leads to your conclusion by itself or be sure to add more data. Adding more and more data to disprove a point I wasn’t making is useless. And if you think I’m wrong about the point I was making go back and reread what I wrote, all of it was about using good data to make your point.

            This article was about how the media assumes that the only Boston marathon winners that matter are in the men’s division. You were saying that it was that way because the men were faster than the women (which is WAY besise the point, be that’s not what we are talking about here). I was saying that, because of unaccounted for factors, head to head races were the only way for you to know that for sure (something that does not happen in the Boston marathon), and your (and TJ’s) counter were to say the men’s times were faster. Your conclusion may well be right (and all outside data shows that) but it can not be safely stated using the Boston marathon data only. You then used outside data to bolster your position that men are faster than women assuming that I was saying they weren’t. I was not, I was simply stating that you needed to better prove your point, which you did by providing more data to counter an argument that wasn’t being made.

            I don’t know why this is so hard for you to see.

  4. @TJ Swift – I never said you couldn’t compare the times (please show me where I said that), what I said was the conclusion you get to by using that data is incomplete and irrelevant but you are welcome to be imprecise, have fun.

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