A week of world class marathon running kicked off in style today as four exciting races at the 120th Boston Marathon provided a tasty appetizer for what‚Äôs to come at the April 24, 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon and the remainder of the races in the Abbott World Marathon Series X.
It was Ethiopia‚Äôs day in the elite events as the east African nation swept the men‚Äôs medals and went one-two in the women‚Äôs for the first time ever, while Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden defended their wheelchair crowns just six days before racing for the IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup in London.
Lemi Berhanu Hayle led home last year‚Äôs champion Lelisa Desisa to take the men‚Äôs crown in 2:12:45 after Atsede Baysa came from nowhere to overhaul this year‚Äôs Dubai champion Tirfi Tsegaye in the women‚Äôs race.
Twice a winner of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in the past, Baysa was not considered among the favorites, but she made up 37-seconds over the last five miles to take the tape in 2:29:19, claiming an early lead in the AbbottWMM Series X standings.
Baysa was the first Ethiopian women‚Äôs winner since 2010 while Tsegaye followed her home in 2:30:03 followed by Kenya‚Äôs Joyce Chepkirui who leapt from 10th in 2015 to place third in 2:30:50.
It was Tsegaye and Chepkirui who made the first decisive move, dragging four clear of a 10-strong group early in the second half. At this stage Baysa was out of sight and seemingly out of the reckoning as Chepkirui pulled away with Tsegaye, plus fellow-Kenyans Valentine Kipketer and Flomena Daniel.
Daniel soon lost touch before Chepkirui and Tsegaye put the pressure on Kipketer. Twice she slipped behind and clawed her way back into contention before the leading pair finally broke free.
With less than 5k to run, it looked like these two had the race to themselves. But Tsegaye began to glance over her shoulder, seemingly anxious about the chasers.
And she had good reason, for Baysa was surging towards them almost unseen on the opposite side of the broad highway.
She sped past the fading Kenyan and cruised away from the tiring Tsegaye before going on to win by 44 seconds.
In the end, Hayle won by a similar margin, but his victory was in doubt until the final mile when he surged clear of Desisa at the last drinks station. The pair had been locked together from early in the second half when Desisa exploded the race, pulling clear of the large pack who had gone through in a pedestrian 66:42.
From then on it was a two-man race. Desisa put his foot down through the aptly-named Heartbreak Hill, imploring Hayle to do his share of the work. But his compatriot was having none of it and bided his time until a mile to go when he took advantage of Desisa‚Äôs desire for one last sip of water.
The two-time champion realised his chance had gone and from then on had to be content with second. He crossed the line in 2:13:32 while Yemane Tsegay held off Kenya‚Äôs Welsey Korir for third in 2:14:02.
With Ethiopians taking five of the six medals in Boston, the pressure is now on Kenya‚Äôs elite to make amends in London where defending champion Eliud Kipchoge faces current and former world record holders, Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang in the men‚Äôs race, and 2015 TCS New York City Marathon champion Mary Keitany seeks revenge over last year‚Äôs winner, Tigist Tufa, in the women‚Äôs.
While it was all change in the elite races, it was a case of as you were in the wheelchairs as Hug and McFadden defended their Boston titles and claimed maximum points in the opening contests of the first ever Abbott World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series.
Hug out-sprinted Ernst van Dyk and Kurt Fearnley in a three-way, wheel-for-wheel dash for the line, while McFadden yet again dominated the women‚Äôs race to take her fourth successive Boston crown and her 15th victory over the last four years at an AbbottWMM event.
It was a return to winning ways for McFadden who will be going for her fourth consecutive London title next Sunday. The US racer was defeated for the first time in four years when she lost to Japan‚Äôs Wakako Tsuchida in Tokyo earlier this year, but she made no mistake this time, cruising home to win by some 90 seconds in 1:42:16 and will come to Britain full of confidence again.
Tsuchida will arrive after she was third in Boston in 1:43:34, just four seconds adrift of Switzerland‚Äôs world champion Manuela Sch√§r who has followed McFadden home in London for the last two years.
Hug will also be heading for London next weekend, as the Swiss star looks to reclaim the title he won in 2013. Hug, van Dyk and Fearnley all clocked 1:24:06 in Boston with Hug winning by a chair‚Äôs length as South African van Dyk got the runners-up place over his Australian opponent by the width of a wheel rim.
Britain‚Äôs six-time London Marathon champion, David Weir, was fourth, a position he will hope to change as he goes for a record seventh title next Sunday.
Find more results and reports from the Boston Marathon here: www.baa.org