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Monday, 16 April 2018 22:10

Kawauchi and Linden defy harsh conditions – and the odds – to win in Boston

Written by IAAF
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Yuki Kawauchi and Desiree Linden were the winners of a Boston Marathon which overturned every possible form book of the IAAF Gold Label road race on Monday (16).

Strong headwinds, occasional driving rain, and temperatures hovering just a few degrees above freezing combined with the notoriously challenging course to give Kawauchi and Linden relatively pedestrian winning times of 2:15:58 and 2:39:54, respectively. Both athletes also benefited from the toll the conditions took on their competitors.

Kawauchi’s was the slowest winning time since 1971; Linden’s was the slowest women’s winning time since 1978. However, today was also the worst conditions since 1970’s race, which saw a mix of rain and sleet along with similarly chilly temperatures.

Kawauchi marked the first win by a Japanese man in Boston since Toshihiko Seko in 1987. “Seko’s win was the year I was born,” Kawauchi noted after the race, “so I can’t help but see the hand of fate.”

Linden, similarly, was the first US woman to win in Boston since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985. This was the first year neither race was won by an African athlete since 1990, when Gelindo Bordin and Rosa Mota took the titles.

Kawauchi, unusually, set off in the lead from the start, explaining later that he knew the cold weather would slow the pace. “I didn’t want to have too many people in the lead group [who] I didn’t know,” he explained. “So I set out to make the race.” He led outright for three miles and even passed the mile mark at a faster pace than the course record pace.

As early leaders usually are in Boston, Kawauchi was caught when the course’s precipitous descent from its start in Hopkinton began to level out, and through Ashland and Framingham a shifting pack of up to a dozen men ran together. Defending champion Geoffrey Kirui was prominent in the front, a white windbreaker and cap his defence against the elements. Unusually for an early leader, Kawauchi remained with the pack.

Kirui made gestures towards the lead several times, particularly testing the pack after they passed halfway, but the world champion committed to the lead in earnest approaching the 30-kilometre mark in the Newton hills.

At one of the course’s few turns, the right turn by the Newton firehouse, Kirui bore down and opened a lead, attacking the three rises through Newton where so many Boston Marathons have collapsed. By the time he crested the final rise, the infamous ‘Heartbreak’ hill, his pursuers were out of sight.

Unfortunately for Kirui, he had overcommitted on the hills, and it was clear by 35 kilometres that he was struggling. “My legs became stiff,” he said. “And that gave me the challenge.”

Behind him, Kawauchi was still grinding. After the race, speaking to the press, Kawauchi used the phrase, “...so I kept pushing” more than once.

“When I took the lead,” he admitted, “I didn’t know I had. I didn’t look to see who it was I had passed.” He discovered he was the leader as he approached the finish line, where he had been told winners would be waved to the right, others to the left. The volunteers waved him to the right. “Then I knew.”

Kawauchi is best known for his prolific racing, finishing 12 marathons in 2017 and winning five of them. He has won more than 30 marathons in his career, the highlight probably being his victory at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in 2013. Before today, his best finish at a high-quality international race was a third place in Tokyo in 2011, and third-place finishes in Fukuoka in 2013 and 2016.

Boston is not even Kawauchi’s first victory in Massachusetts in 2018. On New Year’s Day he won a low-key marathon in nearby Marshfield, running 2:18:59 in sub-zero conditions.

Kirui took second in 2:18:23, with Shadrack Biwott third in 2:18:35. Biwott conceded that the conditions had been a factor – “I kept telling myself to relax, keep my head up, and don’t panic” – and that the driving rain made it difficult to tell if anyone was close enough to catch.

Sixth time’s the charm for Linden

For Desiree Linden, this year’s Boston Marathon was yet another attempt to improve on her second-place finish at the 2011 edition, where she had been out-kicked on Boyleston Street by winner Caroline Kilel.

Since 2011, Linden has finished eighth, fourth and fourth in Boston, and for most of today’s race she didn’t feel like she would do much better. “Today,” she said, “was about getting to the finish.”

When the women’s pack, which did not have a Yuki Kawauchi to bring them along, began to break up at about halfway, it was Mamitu Daska who did the breaking. The Ethiopian opened a lead through Wellesley, and Linden, who was grappling the whether to even stay in the race, offered to work her compatriot Shalane Flanagan back up the lead pack.

“Then I looked around,” Linden reported, “and I was third or fourth, and I figured I wasn’t going to drop out yet.”

Like Kirui, Daska began feeling the effects of her efforts after cresting the hills, and Linden – still wondering if she would finish – took over after 35 kilometres. She ran alone from there, although she admitted: “I thought I might blow up. When you’re thinking you might drop out, you don’t do the right things,” – such as hydrating properly earlier in the race.

“When I made the right turn” on to Hereford Street, the second of three turns in the race, this one with less than a kilometre remaining, “I started to let it sink in.”

“I definitely would have slowed down if I had turned around” and seen the size of her lead, Linden explained. “2011 was what kept me going, the memory of that sprint down Boyleston Street. It was nice to get it right this time.”

Linden was followed in, more than four minutes later, by Sarah Sellers of Utah, in 2:44:04. Sellers (nee Callister), a relative newcomer running her second marathon, described herself as still grappling with the idea of taking second place in a major marathon.

Third-place finisher Krista Duchene, who said her original goal had been a top-three W40 finish, described the last five kilometres of her 2:44:20 as “total disbelief at what was happening”. The Canadian Olympian, who suffered a broken leg during a race in 2014, secured the first World Marathon Majors podium finish of her career.

27,048 runners crossed the starting line in Hopkinton.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

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