Can Shalane Flanagan become the first U.S. female to win since 1985?
Will an American runner break the tape on Boylston Street at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon on April 15? On paper, this seems to be as good a year as any in recent memory, at least on the women’s side of things.
Flanagan, a Marblehead, Mass., native who finished 10th in the marathon at the Olympic Games last summer in London, is making her Boston debut and comes into the race riding the momentum of a solid spring racing season. She captured her fifth U.S. cross country crown in dominating fashion in early February, and came back three weeks later to set a half-marathon personal best of 1:08:31 to finish second at Rock ’n’ Roll New Orleans.
Flanagan also blitzed a wire-to-wire win in the 10,000m at the Stanford Invitational a little over two weeks out from Boston, clocking in at 31:04 to win by 42 seconds over Goucher. With a racing résumé that rivals anyone’s in the field, Flanagan is the favorite to become the first American winner of this race since Lisa Weidenbach in 1985.
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Goucher, who finished one place behind Flanagan last summer in London, will line up for her third Boston Marathon a few steps behind where she’d like to be after spending most of her winter rehabbing a heel injury. Boston has been good to Goucher, however, with a third-place finish in 2009 and a personal best of 2:24:52 in 2011 to her credit. Her runner-up run to Flanagan at Stanford was a step in the right direction for the 34-year-old, who ran a 1:11:49 in New Orleans.
Notably missing from the American lineup is 2011 runner-up Desi Davila, who was slated to run the race but had to withdraw due to a hip injury she suffered before last summer’s Olympics. Worth keeping a close eye on is Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, who ran a personal best of 1:10:53 at last month’s NYC Half. The 29-year-old from Flagstaff, Ariz., who also took third at the U.S. 15K Championships in March, has a personal best of 2:29:35 from the 2011 Houston Marathon and is running her first Boston on Monday.
Standing in the Americans’ way will be a loaded crop of contenders, headlined by defending champion Sharon Cherop of Kenya. Former Boston champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, who was victorious at Chicago last fall, will also not make things easy for anyone on the starting line in Hopkinton. Jeptoo comes into the race with good momentum, having run a personal best of 1:06:27 at the RAK Half Marathon earlier this year. The fastest marathoner in the field is Meseret Hailu Debele of Ethiopia, who ran a 2:21:09 at Amsterdam in 2012. Her countrywoman Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene clocked a 2:21:19 at Berlin last fall, but it remains to be seen how she will fare over Boston’s undulating layout.
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In the men’s race, the chances of producing the first American male winner at Boston since Greg Meyer in 1983 took a big hit in the weeks preceding the race, as all three members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon team — Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman — withdrew due to injury or illness. Keflezighi withdrew earlier this month after a pesky calf injury failed to heal quickly. Hall pulled out even earlier with a quadriceps issue, and Abdirahman came down with the flu just a week before the race.
So, who’s left to the carry the American flag?
The clear choice is Jason Hartmann, who finished as the top American at Boston last year in fourth place. The Boulder-based runner has a personal best of 2:11:06, along with the big race experience and course know-how to keep himself in contention, but he’ll have his hands full with a formidable field of opponents, including three past champions. Wesley Korir of Kenya returns to defend his 2012 title, and the 2009 and 2010 winners — Deriba Merga of Ethiopia and former course-record holder Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot — are also in the field.
Korir surprised some with his victory last year, but he won’t sneak up on anyone this time around. The 2:06 marathoner will have his hands full with last year’s runner-up, fellow Kenyan Levy Matebo, and Ethiopian Olympian Gebre Gebremariam, the 2010 ING New York City Marathon champion who finished third at Boston in 2011 in 2:04:53. Gebremariam has shown good form this spring, taking a close second to double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah at the Rock ’n’ Roll New Orleans Half-Marathon in February.
Others to keep an eye on include Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, who ran a personal best of 2:04:45 in his marathon debut at Dubai earlier this year. He ran a 27:18 personal best in the 10,000m on the track last summer, and is a wildcard in a race that has benefited both Boston veterans and newcomers alike in the past, depending on the year. Former 10K road racing world-record holder Micah Kogo of Kenya, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000m and who sports a half-marathon personal best of 59:07, is making his marathon debut.
American Fernando Cabada, who dropped out of the Houston Marathon earlier this year, is looking for redemption at Boston and enters the race hoping to improve upon his 2:11:53 personal best from last year’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, where he finished seventh.
This year’s Boston Marathon promises to be a race for the ages, and an American win on either side would surely add to the excitement of this iconic event.