BOSTON (18-Apr) -- Athletes from Ethiopia dominated the 120th Boston Marathon here today, sweeping both the men's and women's divisions for the first time in the same year, and capturing five of the six podium positions. Lemi Berhanu Hayle and Atsede Baysa took the top spots in 2:12:45 and 2:29:19, respectively, and hoped that their victories would earn them berths on the Ethiopian team for the Rio Olympics this summer, despite recording modest times. Both athletes earned $150,000 in prize money.
Berhanu Takes Down Desisa
PHOTO: Lemi Berhanu Hayle winning the 2016 Boston Marathon in 2:12:45 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Lelisa Desisa, the defending champion who also won here in 2013, knew better than any man in the field that winning Boston is about tactics, not speed. He ignored an impetuous opening move by Japan's Shingo Igarashi, who spurted to a 21 second lead through the third mile, and remained comfortably in the middle of the pack, content to run a steady 3:10 per kilometer. There was no hurry.
"As we saw, the Boston marathon is different from any other races," Desisa said after the race. "You don't know how it will go. Maybe slow, maybe fast."
Lemi Berhanu Hayle, who finished second at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon three months ago in 2:04:33, wasn't watching the clock, either. He was watching Desisa. He figured that his best strategy was to follow the two-time champion and just make sure he covered any moves.
"When I came to this race, I came only to win, not to run fast, like in Dubai," Berhanu told reporters through a translator. He continued: "I controlled only what Lelisa do."
So, through the first 20 kilometers, the pack dawdled, running the first four 5-kilometer sections in 15:28, 15:50, 15:45 and 16:09, respectively. There were some small surges by Kenya's Paul Lonyangata, Brazil's Solonei Rocha Da Silva, and Zimbabwe's Cutbert Nyasango, but no lasting damage was done. At halfway (1:06:44), there were still 17 men in contention.
It wasn't until the 26th kilometer, that Desisa finally go serious.
"For 23 (kilometers) the pace was very slow," Desisa later explained. "After that I tried to push."
The 16th mile --approximately 24 to 26 kilometers-- is sharply downhill, and Desisa decided to use that section to break up the race. He scorched that mile in 4:34 (2:50 per kilometer pace), and only Berhanu was able to cover the move. Compatriots Yemane Tsegay and Tsegaye Mekonnen did their best to maintain contact, but any chance for victory for them was already lost.
"When Lelisa pushed," Berhanu said, "I listened. I followed what he did."
While a dozen men were still in contention at 25-K, by 30-K Desisa and Berhanu had a 28-second lead, and it was already a two-man race. They passed 35-K and 40-K together, before Berhanu made his bid for victory. Desisa went for his drink at 40-K, and Berhanu took off. In a few seconds, the race was decided. Berhanu had a comfortable lead heading down Boylston Street to the finish in Back Bay. Nonetheless, he was still worried that he could be caught.
"I didn't believe up to the finish line that Lilesa might come," Berhanu said. "I was thinking somebody was over me."
Berhanu's winning time of 2:12:45 was the slowest here since Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot ran 2:14:13 in 2007 when the race was held in driving rain and cold temperatures. Desisa was timed in 2:13:32, easily his slowest Boston, and Tsegay was able to hang on for third (2:14:02). Berhanu was so excited when he finished, that he did a few dance moves after breaking the tape.
"In that time I didn't know what, I was going," he later said, looking slightly embarrassed.
Because of February's USA Olympic Trials Marathon, most home country athletes stayed away from Boston this year. The top American was 28 year-old Zach Hine of Dallas. Finishing tenth in 2:21:37, he was elated with his race, especially since he grew up on South Hadley, Mass., about 145 kilometers west of Boston.
"There's nothing like a hometown race for me," Hine said. He continued: "It's really special. I've just had (so many) texts and calls; my phone's been blowing up since I finished."
Baysa Comes From Behind
PHOTO: Atsede Baysa winning the 2016 Boston Marathon in 2:29:19 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
The women's race also went out slow, and luck --both bad and good-- played a big role in the outcome.
After an easy first 5 kilometers in 18:22, defending champion Caroline Rotich of Kenya, suddenly slowed down, went to the back of the pack, and stopped. Just 7 kilometers into the race she was done.
"Sudden severe foot pain," her manager Isaya Okwyia told Race Results Weekly via text message. "Not certain whether it's bone or soft tissue."
The big lead pack of 18 lumbered on, slimming only to 16 by 10-K (36:20), 13 by 15-K (53:59) and 12 by 20-K (1:11:45). The leaders were only on pace for a 2:31:16 finish time.
After the halfway point (1:15:32), the leaders began to trade surges, and the race resembled a fartlek workout. Baysa decided she didn't want to get caught up in that kind of racing, and decided to hold a steady pace, instead.
"She kept her pace," said her coach Gemedu Degefa. "If she moved in the same way, she would lose the race."
By 30-K (1:46:32) a pack of four had broken away leaving Baysa running alone 24 seconds behind. Ethiopian Tirfi Tsegaye and Kenyans Joyce Chepkirui, Valentine Kipketer and Flomena Cheyech Daniel ran in tight formation, racing each other in earnest. Baysa tried to remain both patient and confident, watching the women racing ahead of her.
"In the middle of the race they did like fartleks," Baysa said through her coach. "I was feeling my own strength. I decided a little bit with my level to maintain the pace."
The sparring at the front began to take a toll. Daniel was first to fall off of the pace, then Kipketer was dropped going up Heartbreak Hill in the 21st mile, although she briefly caught up later. Baysa was a whopping 37 seconds behind at 35-K, but was beginning to make up time. She knew she was still in contention.
"After, everybody was near to me," she said. "I moved and pushed the race in the last part."
Covering the 5 kilometers between 35 and 40-K in 16:43 --the fastest 5-K segment by any woman in today's race-- she captured the lead in the 40th kilometer and, remarkably, ran away from the field.
"Winning the Boston Marathon is for me is big," Baysa said, later explaining that she endured hamstring pain beginning in the 12th kilometer. Saying she was confident in her training, she added: "I thought I could win the race very easily."
Tirfi, who trains with Baysa, held on for second (2:30:03) and the tiring Chepkirui --last December's Honolulu Marathon champion-- picked up third (2:30:50). Two-time TCS New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia survived an entanglement with Fatuma Sado in which Sado lost her shoe, and finished fourth in 2:32:28.
The top American was Neely Spence Gracey of Superior, Colo. The 26 year-old former NCAA Division II star for Shippensburg University, finished a solid ninth in 2:35:00 in her debut at the distance. Sticking with a conservative race plan, she ran halves of 1:17:01 and 1:17:59, and looked fresh at the finish.
"I'm definitely very pleased," said Gracey, who was born in 1990 while her father, Steve, was competing in the Boston Marathon. "I ran very conservatively based off of my training coming into it to set up for a positive outcome." She concluded: "I met my goals."
With their victories here today, Baysa and Berhanu lead the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series X with 25 points. The series will conclude here in Boston next year and the series champions will earn $500,000.