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Report15 Apr 2013

Tactical brilliance from Jeptoo and Desisa in Boston


Rita Jeptoo wins the 2013 Boston Marathon, seven years after her first victory (© Victah Sailor)

Lelisa Desisa won his first Boston Marathon and Rita Jeptoo her second in 2:26:25, both after surviving tactical races with several lead changes on a sunny Monday morning (15) at the 117th edition of the Boston Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

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Jeptoo closes a seven-year gap

Jeptoo, whose previous Boston win came way back in 2006, took command of a late-race bid to reel in early leaders Yolanda Caballero and Ana Dulce Felix, then smashed all remaining challengers over the final mile.

“Last year I was not ready,” commented Jeptoo on her 2:35:53 sixth-place finish in 2012. “My training was good this year, I was thankful to my coach for training me well and putting me where I am today. I was happy for him, not so much for myself.”

The women started 28 minutes before the men, departing from the rural western suburb of Hopkinton at 9:32am on the point-to-point course. Conditions were cool and sunny with little wind. Caballero was part of a small early lead pack, and hung on alone in the front when the others fell back to the main pack. Running alone past the half-way mark, Caballero was eventually caught when Felix picked up the pace and tracked her down.

Felix, a 2:25:40 marathoner, was a credible threat to run away with the race at that point, but still faced the infamous Newton hills, a series of three climbs culminating in “Heartbreak Hill” before the course descends into Boston proper. Running aggressively, Felix built up a lead of as much as 1:16 over the chase pack, mostly out of sight of her pursuers due to hills and bends in the course.

It was Jeptoo who finally drove the bid to close that gap, leading half of the chase pack in a charge which closed Felix’s margin in just under three miles, starting after the crest of Heartbreak Hill. As the women tore through Brookline, Felix – who eventually finished ninth in 2:30:05 – watched helplessly from the right side of the road as Jeptoo, World Half-marathon champion Meseret Hailu, defending champion Sharon Cherop, and Shalane Flanagan tore by on the left.

By the time Felix was caught up, Jeptoo was already in full flight with Hailu and Cherop, then Flanagan, trailing in her wake. As the course climbed an overpass to cross the Massachusetts Turnpike, around the 40km marker, Jeptoo finally achieved separation, and earned her second Boston Marathon victory in 2:26:25, a full six years after her first. Nobody has won two Boston Marathons so far apart since John A Kelley in 1935 and 1945.

“I was thinking about my friends,” said 32-year-old Jeptoo. “I didn’t know who was first or who was second, I was thinking that I was running with my friend Sharon (Cherop). I was confident that I knew my training. When Sharon agreed to go, I was ready. I was so happy because I was running like 2007.”

Hailu hung on to finish second in 2:26:58. “I am happy to be in Boston for the first time,” said the Ethiopian record-holder in the Half-marathon, “and to finish second. The first half of the race was too slow. I was hoping that the ladies would take the initiative, but we were watching each other too much. The result was that the second half was too fast for me. I am very pleased to finish in second position.”

Cherop took third in 2:27:01, bookending her 2012 win with a third place to match her 2011 finish. “This is the third year I have been in Boston, and today the weather was almost like 2011, not hot like last year. I knew my shape was not at the top. My friend Rita was faster than me at the RAK Half Marathon, and I knew she could run faster than me in the last kilometre. Since I started running in Boston, I have never missed the top three. I saw there were two women still in front of us, and I told my friend Rita, maybe these women might win with 6km to go.”

Desisa a debut victor

Lelisa Desisa was running his first Boston Marathon – and only his second ever Marathon – and unlike Jeptoo was able to follow a full pack of compatriots for almost the entire race before blasting away on Hereford Street, with barely a half mile remaining, for his five-second victory in 2:10:22.

Unlike recent women’s races decided in the Boyleston Street “home stretch”, Desisa made his move earlier, on the short, slightly uphill Hereford Street section just before. Sprinting away from Kenyan Micah Kogo, in his marathon debut, and countryman Gebre Gebremariam, third here in 2011, Desisa made his triumphant run down Boyleston alone. Kogo took second in 2:10:27, with Gebremariam third in 2:10:28.

The men were as conservative as the women in the early going, with Americans Jason Hartmann, third in 2012, and Fernando Cabada leading with metronomic five-minute miles for five miles before being caught up. Hitting halfway in a relatively pedestrian 1:04:44, the pack of 11 began thinning as first Canada’s Robin Watson, then Markos Geneti, Kogo, and Dickson Chumba began testing the pack with surges.

Defending champion Wesley Korir, who was on and off the lead pack throughout the race before finally finishing fifth in 2:12:30, reported: “It was a tactical race, the Ethiopians versus the Kenyans. They were not fighting for time, but to beat each other.”

Watson’s surge in the 15th mile woke up the pack, as he pulled as much as four seconds ahead of the pack before Geneti reeled him back in. Kogo took over in the 17th mile, the first sign that the inter-team battle was heating up.

It was Chumba who really broke up the pack, cutting the leaders down to himself, Desisa, 2012 runner-up Levy Matebo, Geneti, and 2009 champion Deriba Merga, with Gebremariam, Kogo, Raji Assefa and Korir several seconds adrift. Merga began falling back as the pack passed 30km (he eventually finished 27th in 2:21:40) and Desisa showed his face in the front for the first time.

By 20 miles the pack was down to five, and although Korir made another appearance in the front in the 23rd mile, Desisa made another surge in the next mile to trim the field down to the three who would ultimately make up the podium.

With his victory here in Boston, Desisa maintains his perfect record in his burgeoning Marathon career, having won in Dubai in January on his debut with a world-leading clocking of 2:04:45.

American hopes for an end to the long-time drought of domestic winners were disappointed yet again, with fourth-place finishers in both races. Hartmann took fourth for the men in 2:12:12, and Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist, was fourth for the women in 2:27:08 in her first run at Boston. Kara Goucher, third here in 2009 and the 2007 World Championships bronze medallist at 10,000m, was sixth in 2:28:11.

Also in the women’s race, 1984 Olympic gold medallist Joan Benoit Samuelson, a former two-time winner here and now 55, ran 2:50:29 to set a new world age-group best, taking almost two minutes off the previous mark.

Parker Morse for the IAAF