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Desisa, Rotich Win Tactical Battles at Wet and Windy Boston Marathon

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BOSTON (20-Apr)—Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Caroline Rotich of Kenya overcame strong fields and wet and windy weather to win the 119th Boston Marathon here today in 2:09:17 and 2:24:55, respectively.  For Desisa, who won here just hours before the terrorist bombings in 2013, it was his second victory, while Rotich got her First.  Both athletes won $150,000 in prize money.

Rotich, 30, who went to high school in Japan but now lives and trains in Santa Fe, N.M., used a patient strategy to win her first major marathon title.  She ran at the back of the lead pack of 11 women through 5 kilometers in an honest—but not too fast—16:57, content to let others do the leading.  Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia (second here last year) was the nominal leader, and was followed by compatriots Mare Dibaba, Aberu Kebede, and Shure Demise; Kenyans Joyce Chepkirui, Caroline Kilel, and Sharon Cherop; and Americans Desi Linden, Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg.

The pace slowed for the next two 5-kilometer segments (17:28 and 17:23, respectively) and little changed among the leaders.  That prompted Linden, who finished second here in 2011, to take the lead.

“That’s how you have to run this course,” said Linden, 31, who lives in Washington, Mich., and did most of her training for this race in Kenya to avoid the harsh Michigan winter.  “You have to be gritty and aggressive.”

Linden led through 15-K (51:48) and 20-K (1:09:00), but fell back slightly after she dropped her personal bottle at the 20-kilometer fluid station and had to work her way back up.  Linden again took over the lead, holding a steady pace into the increasingly strong headwinds. 

Between 25 and 30-K, Flanagan and Cragg (who eventually dropped out) fell off the pace, leaving nine women still in contention: Linden, Kilel, Chepkirui, Dibaba, Kebede, Deba, Demise, Rotich and Cherop.  Dibaba, her hair done in intricate braids, made the first important move of the race.  Waiting for the 35-K mark, she surged into the lead and only Deba and Rotich were able to respond.

“Initially, I was trying to improve the pace and make it a little faster,” Dibaba told reporters after the race through a translator. 
The trio ran the fastest 5-kilometers of the race from 35 to 40-K (16:41) and the podium was decided.  But in what order?

“I saw the 25-mile (about 40-K) mark and I feel like I’m still strong,” Rotich told reporters.  She continued: “When I turned on to the last street I said, no, it’s not over.”

Deba, who chose to run on the left hand side of the road way, couldn’t keep up with Rotich and Dibaba, and saw another Boston victory slip away.

“Today was not my day,” said Deba, who lives in the Bronx in New York City.  “The last three miles my body is too tight.”

Rotich and Dibaba traded surges, and Dibaba liked her chances.

“I was pretty confident that I was going to win,” said the petite Ethiopian. 

But the day would belong to Rotich.  Running on Dibaba’s right, she made one final push for victory, and opened a gap.  The move stuck.

“All of a sudden I saw the finish line,” Rotich marveled.  She added: “I had to give it all the strength.”

Rotich pumped her fist before breaking the tape on Boylston Street in 2:24:55, a very solid time under the conditions.  Dibaba was just four seconds back, and Deba was timed in 2:25:09.  Linden would finish fourth in 2:25:39 and was genuinely pleased with her performance.

“I beat some great athletes today,” declared Linden, choking up slightly.  She continued: “I’m not an emotional person, but today was huge for me.”

Flanagan, who grew up in nearby Marblehead and finished seventh here last year, crossed the finish line ninth in 2:27:47.  She did not speak with the media, but tweeted: “I love you Boston. Thank you for getting me through a tough run. So proud of the Americans, esp @des_linden.”


DESISA TAKES CONTROL

In the men’s contest, the early downhill miles clicked off quickly in 4:39, 4:48, 4:44, 4:43 and 4:54, respectively, putting the race on a sub-2:05 pace.  A big pack of 14 went through 10 km in 29:42, but then the pace began to slow with Desisa on the front at 15-K (44:57).  He was joined by compatriots Yemane Tsegay, Tadese Tola, and Gebre Gebremariam; Kenyans Wilson Chebet, Wesley Korir, and Frankline Chepkwony; American Meb Keflezighi (the defending champion), South African Lusapho April; and Eritrean Zersenay Tadese. 

American Dathan Ritzenhein was 23 seconds back, but joined the leading group by the half-way mark (1:04:01), and then, to his surprise, took the lead.

“I didn’t realize that I would be out in front,” said Ritzenhein who said he held a steady pace while the leaders slowed and came back to him.  “When I came up to about 12 miles I saw them bunch up.”

Ritzenhein, who was running Boston for the first time, stayed on the front through 30-K, but was dropped when Desisa made a big move past the 35-K fluid station. 

“I pushed at 35-K; Yemane is following me,” Desisa recounted.  “I got again.”

Tsegay, Chebet, Korir and Chepkwony were able to respond, but Keflezighi got caught trying to rapidly swallow his drink and catch back up at the same time.  The fluid wouldn’t stay down, and Keflezighi had to stop to vomit multiple times.  His chances for victory were dashed.

“I had to stop five times and had to throw up,” he told reporters.  He added: “Obviously, that big move was the deciding factor.”

Desisa bolted from the 35 to 40-K mark in a snappy 14:40.  He had put everyone away except for Tsegay.

“I tried to test all the athletes to see who has more than me, more speed than me,” Lelisa explained.  He continued: “My performance, my speed, is greater than theirs.”

Lelisa was able to pull away from Tsegay and had enough of a cushion to enjoy his victory as he ran the final meters alone on Boylston Street.  He waved several times to the crowd, threw off his hat, and broke the tape in 2:09:17. 

“I moving my hand (waving) because I love Boston people,” said Desisa, who finished second at the TCS New York City Marathon last November. 

Tsegay, who later complained of hamstring trouble, took second in 2:09:48.  Chebet, who finished second here last year, took third in 2:10:22.  Ritzenhein was the top American in seventh place in 2:11:20, one position ahead of Keflezighi (2:12:42).  Keflezighi, whose victory here was so dramatic last year one year after the terrorist bombings, was frustrated by his fluid station troubles.

“I felt very comfortable the whole way through,” he said of the first 35 kilometers.  “I didn’t have any problems prior to that.”  He added: “No regrets.  I put my heart and soul into that.”

Several prominent men dropped out, including former world record holder Patrick Makau (last split at 5 km) and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Abel Kirui (last split at 35 km).

*  *  *  *  * 

Although finisher totals were not yet available, the timing service reported 30,249 athletes had picked up their numbers. 


PHOTO: Lilesa Desisa of Ethiopia wins the 2015 Boston Marathon in 2:09:17 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

PHOTO: Caroline Rotich of Kenya wins the 2015 Boston Marathon in 2:24:55 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

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