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Jeptoo breaks course record with third Boston victory while Keflezighi ends US drought

Rita Jeptoo successfully defends her Boston Marathon title (Getty Images)Rita Jeptoo successfully defends her Boston Marathon title (Getty Images) © Copyright

Rita Jeptoo and Meb Keflezighi made Boston Marathon history on Monday (21), as Jeptoo won her third Boston in course-record time and Keflezighi broke a 31-year drought, becoming the first US man to win in Boston since 1983. The IAAF Gold Label Road Race celebrated its 118th running from the outlying town of Hopkinton to Boston’s Copley Square.

It was an emotional day in Boston, with runners from the front of the pack to the back wishing to reclaim the marathon as a celebration and a competition after the events of 2013. They were aided by superb weather and crowds among the largest in recent memory lining the course.

Keflezighi escapes

It was an emotional race for Keflezighi, who started planning within days of the 2013 race. He leapt out to the front of the race early and was always visible among the leaders. He and Josphat Boit, a Kenyan-born American who, like Keflezighi, trains in Mammoth Lakes, California, opened a gap on the rest of the field by the 5km mark, and while Boit eventually faded (he finished 11th in 2:12:52) Keflezighi did not. His finish time of 2:08:37 was a PB by 31 seconds.

Still, with only a 2:09:08 PB, Keflezighi’s move to the front wasn’t taken seriously by the rest of the pack, and top names like defending champion Lelisa Desisa and Chicago Marathon champion Dennis Kimetto stayed off the lead.

When they finally gave chase, it was too late, although only barely so. Wilson Chebet closed to within six seconds before finally settling for a 2:08:48 runner-up finish, with Frankline Chepkwony on his shoulder at 2:08:50 as neither Desisa nor Kimetto finished. But Keflezighi made his name on hilly, “slow” marathon courses, and in the end his lack of a top-grade PB was less important than his experience and determination.

Keflezighi, who will be 39 in two weeks, is the 2004 Olympic silver medallist in the marathon and the 2009 New York City Marathon champion. His last marathon win, the 2012 US Olympic Team Trials, was his fastest before today, a 2:09:08.

He is now the only US man ever to have won Boston, New York, and an Olympic marathon medal; with his fourth-place finish in the London Olympic marathon he’s one of the most successful active Olympic marathon runners. Keflezighi is also the oldest man to win in Boston since Clarence Demar in 1930. Demar, who won seven Boston Marathons, was 41 at the time of his last win.

“I kept thinking, Boston strong, Boston strong,” said Keflezighi. “I knew they were coming for me. The energy from the crowd was just tremendous. I used that energy.” Keflezighi ran with the names of the four victims of last year’s attacks written on the corners of his bib number.

“Early on I was seeing people coming, so I knew they were going to be there working together. Looking back is not a bad thing. It can save you a win. Towards the end, I was a little bit nervous, but I was thinking, ‘save something, save something’.”

Chebet, speaking for the chasing pack, said: “From the start, we ran as a group. But we were scared to follow. I was thinking that if I followed I would kill myself,” on the notorious Newton hills which make the second half of the Boston course so challenging.

“I knew from that point [35km] the course was downhill, so I knew I could run fast. And of course, Meb was in front of me. In my mind, I thought that if I ran at [4:31 mile pace] I could win, but towards the end I was a bit tired. When I saw the finish line approaching, I knew I couldn’t win.”

Fast treble for Jeptoo

Jeptoo’s victory, while not as surprising, was just as momentous but for different reasons. The 33-year-old Kenyan became the fastest woman in Boston history and the first to run sub-2:20 there.

The defending champion and 2006 winner, Jeptoo came to the start line in Hopkinton with more experience than any of the elite entrants, and in winning put herself among a short list of three-time champions.

Jeptoo is the first woman to win three Boston Marathons since Catherine Ndereba took her third in 2004. Only Ndereba, with a fourth win in 2005, has more victories in Boston.

Following an aggressive early pace set by hometown favourite Shalane Flanagan, the pack came through halfway in 1:09:28, already on pace to run about 2:19. Flanagan’s dream began to fade on the aptly-named Heartbreak Hill as she fell off the pace approaching 21 miles.

At the crest of Heartbreak Hill, Jeptoo took control with a series of blistering mile splits coming down through Brookline to the finish, including an almost-unbelievable 4:47 for the 24th mile.

Alone by then, Jeptoo was chasing only Margaret Okayo’s course record of 2:20:43 from 2002, and it was almost a foregone conclusion. After covering the final 2.195km section in 6:51 – just three seconds slower than Keflezighi's split for the same section – Jeptoo crossed the finish line in 2:18:57, taking her to fifth on the world all-time list.

In the end the top four women ran faster than the previous record: Buzunesh Deba, twice second in New York City, was second again here with a PB of 2:19:59, and Mare Dibaba was third in 2:20:35, while Jemima Jelagat Sumgong was fourth in 2:20:41.

“I was not expecting to run fast like today, but I’m happy,” said Jeptoo. “I was surprised because the race was like on fire! I managed to think of all my training. Last year you saw nobody pushing because they’re looking for me, and everybody follows me. But today I pushed all day.”

“I’ve never started like that. My body was not responsive at the beginning. Maybe after 25km I felt like, ‘I’m OK,’ and I started from there.”

Jeptoo and Keflezighi each won $150,000 for their victories; Jeptoo will add an additional $25,000 for the course record.

Flanagan trailed in seventh in 2:22:02, the fastest-ever US time on the Boston course, and told reporters she would keep coming back until she won. Desiree Linden, second in 2011, was 10th today in 2:23:54. Former champions Sharon Cherop (eighth, 2:23:00) and Caroline Kilel (17th, 2:32:04) were ultimately non-factors, while Belarusian record-holder Aliaksandra Duliba came through strong to finish sixth in a PB of 2:21:29.

Two-time Boston winner and Olympic champion Joan Benoit Samuelson started with the mass race and finished 58th in 2:52:11.

Huge participation

Nearly 36,000 entrants started Monday’s race in four waves of 9000, the second-largest field in the history of the race. The fourth wave was added in response to overwhelming demand and included more than 80% of the 5000-plus runners who were stopped short of the finish line in 2013, as well as thousands of runners raising money for charities connected.

Among others, the Martin Richard Foundation – whose Team MR8 vest was worn by 1968 champion Amby Burfoot, race director Dave McGillivray, and women’s push-rim wheelchair winner Tatiana McFadden – raised more than USD $1,000,000.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

LEADING RESULTS

Men
1 Meb Keflezighi (USA) 2:08:37
2 Wilson Chebet (KEN) 2:08:48
3 Frankline Chepkwony (KEN) 2:08:50
4 Vitaliy Shafar (UKR) 2:09:37
5 Markos Geneti (ETH) 2:09:50
6 Joel Kimurer (KEN) 2:11:03
7 Nicholas Arciniaga (USA) 2:11:47
8 Jeffrey Eggleston (USA) 2:11:57
9 Paul Lonyangata (KEN) 2:12:34
10 Adil Annani (MAR) 2:12:43

Women
1 Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 2:18:57
2 Bezunesh Deba (ETH) 2:19:59
3 Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:20:35
4 Jemima Jelagat Sumgong (KEN) 2:20:41
5 Meselech Melkamu (ETH) 2:21:28
6 Aliaksandra Duliba (BLR) 2:21:29
7 Shalane Flanagan (USA) 2:22:02
8 Sharon Cherop (KEN) 2:23:00
9 Philes Ongori (KEN) 2:23:22
10 Desiree Linden 2:23:54