2016 Boston Marathon winners Lemi Berhanu Hayle and Atsede Baysa (© Getty Images)
Ethiopia's Lemi Bernanu Hayle and Atsede Baysa won at the 2016 edition of the Boston Marathon, the 120th running of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race, crossing the line in 2:12:45 and 2:29:19 respectively on Monday (18).
It was the first time in the race’s 120-year history that Ethiopians had swept both the titles.
It ultimately fell to Kenya’s Joyce Chepkirui to take charge of the pace in the women's race, although as usual the lead changed frequently in the early miles on a day with a slight headwind and with temperatures rising to about 20C.
Defending champion Caroline Rotich stepped off the course at 7km and ultimately dropped out. Halfway was reached in a pedestrian 1:15:25 and the leaders were close enough that Latvia’s Jelena Prokopcuka tangled with Fatuma Sado and knocked the latter’s right shoe loose.
Sado stopped and retrieved the shoe, she and Prokopcuka then worked together to regain contact with the pack. Prokopcuka ultimately finished fourth with Sado 16th.
The women rolled down into Newton Lower Falls at a decent pace but slowed when they met the first hills. The pack which rode that roller coaster had thinned to four, featuring Ethiopia’s Tirfi Tsegaye and the Kenyan trio of Chepkirui, Valentine Kipketer and Flomena Cheyech with Baysa well off the back.
After Tsegaye and Chepkirui shook the other pair off, it looked like the women’s race was coming down to a head-to-head duel, but Baysa had other ideas; she found a second life after cresting the Newton hills at mile 21.
With Tsegaye frequently twisting around to try to gauge the progress of her sometime training partner, Baysa closed a deficit which had grown to 37 seconds at 22 miles, when she moved into third place.
Tsegaye first tried to drop Chepkirui, but Baysa passed first the Kenyan and then her compatriot.
At 40km, Baysa started pulling clear, and she built a lead of 44 seconds by the time she reached the finish, crossing the line in 2:29:19. Tsegaye held on for second in 2:30:03. Having passed halfway in 1:15:32, Baysa ran the hilly second half of the race in 1:13:47.
Chepkirui, who was disputing the lead with Tsegaye at 22 miles before Baysa started her long charge for glory, was third in 2:30:50.
Baysa has a lengthy marathon-running resume, including victories in Chicago in 2010 and 2012, as well as wins in Saitama, Paris (twice), Xiamen, and Istanbul.
Both Kenya and Ethiopia have indicated that Boston results, along with next weekend’s race in London, will figure in selection for their Olympic team. But Olympic champion Tiki Gelana was never a factor in the race, finishing 14th in 2:42:38 and Buzunesh Deba, a frequent contender both here and in New York and the only woman in the field to have run under 2:20:00 in Boston, was seventh in 2:33:56.
Berhanu beats defending champion
The men’s race also started slowly and the leaders stumbled through halfway in 1:06:43, looking for someone willing to take command.
After a few small breakaways came to nothing, defending champion Lelisa Desisa, hoping to add a third Boston win to his pair from 2013 and 2015, took charge as the course descended from Wellesley Hills to Newton Lower Falls.
Desisa moved to the front as the pack rolled down the hill and then maintained the pace as they crossed the Charles River and started up the opposite bank in the first of the Newton Hills; he slowed slightly but the rest of the pack slowed more, and abruptly a race which had looked more like a dreary committee meeting became notably more interesting.
Only Berhanu stuck with Desisa’s big push, and from that point the race was primarily an Ethiopian duel for supremacy.
Initially Desisa let Berhanu set the pace and hovered behind him waiting to move but he then came to the front and began actively trying to shake the younger runner.
Berhanu, at 21 already a winner in Dubai in 2015 and runner-up there this January, also had previous wins in Warsaw and Zurich.
He was confident in his ability to win and his speed – with a best 2:04:33, he was third-fastest among the starters – but had never before entered a race as big as Boston.
Ultimately Berhanu took over at the very end, side-by-side with Lelisa through 40km but then taking charge before the mile to go mark in Kenmore Square and opening a gap of 47 seconds back to the tiring Desisa, who held on for second in 2:13:32.
With the racing beginning a few miles after halfway, the second half was slightly faster than the first, 1:06:01 to 1:06:43 for the first half.
Yemane Tsegay won a close-fought duel with 2012 Boston winner Wesley Korir to make it a 1-2-3 finish for Ethiopia; he ran 2:14:02 to the Kenyan’s 2:14:05.
The 120th running of the Boston Marathon saw 27,491 starters set out on the classic course from the western suburb of Hopkinton to the finish line in Boston.
Parker Morse for the IAAF