"Roger on Running," Running Times, March 19, 2014
By Roger Robinson
The big spring marathons are just ahead - Rome (March 23), Paris (April 6), London (April 13) and Boston (April 21). One absolutely safe prediction is that almost all the top places will go to Ethiopia and Kenya. One small geographical area, about 1/60th of the total of Africa, will be utterly dominant in a major sport practiced ardently all around the globe.
In 2013, there were 149 male marathon performances faster than 2hr 10min. Eighty of those were by Kenyans, 47 by Ethiopians, plus eight by Eritreans and Ugandans, from the same region and similar ethnicity. (My tally includes one Kenyan now a Qatar citizen.) That's 134 out of 149, and leaves only 15 sub 2:10s done by other runners (including Dathan Ritzenhein). The same ratio prevails until you go quite deep. In the 2013 merit rankings compiled by All-Athletics.com, only nine of the top 100 men are not East African. From 101 to 200, there are only 14 from other places - Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Mongolia, Italy, and Boulder, Colorado (Jason Hartmann, ranked 194). From 201-300, the ratio is still 69/31. Of the best 300 men in the world today, 246 are East African. With the women, while the ratios are less extreme, they are moving closer to the men's every year.
This may be stating the obvious, but that doesn't mean the obvious is not worth thinking about. These are statistics without parallel or precedent. No globally popular human activity has ever been so dominated at elite level by people from such a relatively small region. Italians are good at singing, but not 90% of great singers are from Italy. South Americans are good at soccer, but the equivalent to running would be if the final sixteen teams in this year's World Cup were all South American.