By David Monti, @d9monti (c) 2019 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved - shared with permission
BOSTON (15-Apr) -- An early breakaway by Ethiopia's Worknesh Degefa and a sizzling final sprint by Kenya's Lawrence Cherono delivered victories here today at the 123rd Boston Marathon, the fourth event of Series XII of the Abbott World Marathon Majors. On a day which began with thunder, lightning and heavy downpours Degefa and Cherono crossed the race's historic finish line on Boylston Street in Back Bay in cloudy and mild conditions, clocking 2:23:31 and 2:07:57, respectively. Both athletes were first-time competitors in the race, and each won $150,000 in prize money.
Degefa, 28, was both the fastest woman entered into today's race from Hopkinton to Boston, and also the Ethiopian record holder with a personal best time of 2:17:41. Remarkably, she set that time just 80 days ago in Dubai yet was able to rally back to dominate here in Boston under the coaching of her husband, Asefa Dub Berhanu. Asserting herself early in the race, she began to pull away at around the 8-kilometer point and only two other women followed, Kenya's Sharon Cherop and Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba.
"Because if I stayed longer (in the pace), at the finish I could not make it," Degefa explained later through a translator at to why she decided to make her move so early. She added: "I decided to push myself."
Degefa went through the 10-kilometer point in 33:58 with a modest, but growing, 14-second lead over Cherop and Dibaba. The rest of the pack was another 15 seconds behind. From there, Degefa's lead would expand with each passing checkpoint. By the halfway point (1:10:40) Degefa was up by 2 minutes and 27 seconds, and by 30-K her lead had swelled to 2 minutes and 59 seconds. From the 5-K to the 30-K mark she ran 5-kilometer segments of 16:24, 16:23, 16:38, 16:44 and 17:02. Victory seemed assured.
But behind her Kenya's Edna Kiplagat, the 2017 champion here, had left the chase pack and was surging hard. Kiplagat, 39, twice the IAAF world marathon champion, ran an incredible 33:04 from the 30-K to the 40-K mark which included the torturous climb up Heart Break Hill. By the 40-K mark, Degefa's lead had been cut by more than half to 68 seconds, but time was running out for Kiplagat.
"I decided to make a strong surge, a strong move," Kiplagat would later explain. She continued: "I realized that the race is almost over and I knew I wasn't going to make it."
At the finish, Degefa had Boylston Street to herself, and a 42-second cushion over Kiplagat. She crossed herself before finishing, and her only sadness came from the fact that her husband wasn't able to get a visa to see her compete in person.
"As you know Boston is a major world marathon," Degefa said referring to the Abbott World Marathon Majors. "Wining Boston marathon is super special to me."
Kiplagat, who recently relocated her family to Boulder, Colo., was content with second in 2:24:13 and the $75,000 in prize money. Third went to Jordan Hasay of Portland, Ore., who was forced to cancel her participation in last year's race at the last minute because of a stress fracture in her foot. She ran 2:25:20 in he third marathon, and announced later that she would try for the USA marathon record of 2:19:36 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October.
"It was definitely really tough," Hasay said about her long road back to fitness after both last April's fracture and two subsequent fractures in the same foot. She added: "That's what was fueling me those last few miles."
Ethiopia's Meskerem Assefa finished fourth (2:25:40) and defending champion Desiree Linden of Charlevoix, Mich., rounded out the top-5 (2:27:00). Linden, who swigged from a beer can at the end of the post-race press conference, said she appreciated all of the support she received along the course.
"I think this course was built for me," said Linden who also finished second here in 2011. She added: "When I decide to walk away this will feel like my home course."
For men's champion Cherono, 30, the race played out in a completely different fashion. Instead of an early-race breakaway, the men stuck together like a military unit, kilometer after kilometer. The halfway point was reached in a conservative 1:04:28 and fully 15 men were within 6 seconds of the nominal leader, Lemi Berhanu of Ethiopia, the 2016 champion here. Absent from the pack was defending champion Yuki Kawauchi of Japan; he would eventually finish 17th in 2:15:29.
But among the men in the pack was two-time race champion Lelisa Desisa, another Ethiopian, who was victorious here in both 2013 and 2015. He was content to see the men stay together and was saving his energy for what he suspected would be a fast finish.
"I control everybody," he said later, as if he were a hypnotist. "I think it's better."
At the top of Heart Break Hill, just before the 35-kilometer mark, eight men were still in contention: Kenyans Cherono, Geoffrey Tanui, Festus Talam, Philemon Rono, Felix Kandie, and Kenneth Kipkemoi; Desisa; and Scott Fauble of Flagstaff, Ariz., the only American. Fauble, running his first Boston, was excited to be so close to the front.
"When I was leading I was thinking holy beep, I'm leading the beeping Boston Marathon," Fauble told reporters. He added: "I just tried to soak in the moment of actually being at the front of the pack."
But like an amusement park ride which went haywire, the pace suddenly got a lot faster. Miles 24 and 25 were covered in 4:31 and 4:37, respectively, and the 5 kilometers from 35-K to 40-K went in the books in 14:29, easily the fastest segment of the race. That left only Cherono, Kipkemoi and Desisa to battle for the win.
"Last miles were fast," said Kipkemoi marveled. "Everyone one was trying to break through."
As the three men barrelled down Boylston Street, Kipkemoi was the first to drift off of the back. With every step, the pace got faster until Cherono and Desisa were going all out in the final 50 meters. Desisa, on the left side of the roadway, looked to have a slight edge, but Cherono charged ahead in the center pushing past Desisa in the last five meters. The official finish gap of two seconds would have been smaller, except that Desisa eased off slightly just before the line once he knew he had been beaten.
"To me I was so grateful to be in Boston," said Cherono wearing the winner's laurel wreath which, as is the tradition here, had been dipped in gold. "My race today was fantastic."
With his second place finish (2:07:59) Desisa notched his fourth podium finish at Boston, and his ninth in an Abbott World Marathon Majors.
"I am number two," Desisa said in English. "I am very happy."
Kipkemoi was a clear third in 2:08:07, followed by Kandie (2:08:54) and Kirui (2:08:55). Fauble ended up seventh in a personal best 2:09:09, and another American, Jared Ward from Mapleton, Utah, finished eighth in 2:09:25, also a personal best.
"It's about dang time," said Ward when asked how it felt to finally break 2:10.
As in all Abbott World Marathon Majors events, a top-10 finish (regardless of time) will be considered by the IAAF as a 2020 Olympic Games qualifying mark.
Over 30,000 runners representing 118 countries and all 50 states entered today's race.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors Series XII continues at the Virgin Monday London Marathon on Sunday, April 28.
PHOTO: Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia wins the 2019 Boston Marathon in 2:23:31; the tapeholders are Rob Friedman (l), assistant vice president of sponsorship and event marketing, John Hancock, and Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)