120th Marathon Race All About Surprise Surges and Ethiopia

By James O’Brien and Barbara Huebner Courtesy of Boston Athletic Association

Two Ethiopian Elite runners made stunning surges to come from behind and claim the crown for both the men’s and women’s division – becoming the first Ethiopian duo to win both division in the history of the Back Bay-based race.

The most historic comeback came on the women’s side, and one coming on the 50th anniversary of the first female Marathon finisher, a drama that was a fitting tribute to the combination of persistence and bravery that led Bobbi Gibb to become the first woman to cross the finish line of this race, back in 1966.

With just over four miles remaining in the 120th Boston Marathon, the women’s podium was locked up. Joyce Chepkirui and Tirfi Tsegaye looked great, and Valentine Kipketer was still hanging on a step behind them. The trio had traversed the Newton Hills shoulder-to-shoulder, without a challenger in sight.

Then, suddenly, a hint of color in the distance. Is that yellow dot getting closer? Yes, emphatically and without a doubt, that yellow dot was getting closer. Could it possibly be the lead man already, barreling forward at such a rate of speed? No, but who WAS it?

Tsegaye, of Ethiopia, had been looking over her shoulder for the past mile, wary that the Kenyans might be approaching. Instead, she finally caught a glimpse of that inexorably closing yellow dot, and reality hit her hard.

“When I saw her, I knew she was going to win,” said Tsegaye of her training partner.

And win she did. Coming from 37 seconds back at 35K, Atsede Baysa recorded one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in the history of women’s racing at the Boston Marathon, blasting past the leaders just beyond mile 24 and going on to win in 2:29:19.

It was Chepkirui, Tsegaye said later, who was dictating the pace, apparently hoping to burn the legs out from under her rivals. The yo-yoing allowed a pack of nearly a dozen – Baysa among them – to remain together at the halfway point, which they hit in a pedestrian 1:15:32. But when the quartet of Chepkirui, Tsegaye, Kipketer, and Flomena Cheyech Daniel threw in a monstrous 5:00 mile going down into Newton Lower Falls after a snail-like 6:12 previous mile, a balky left hamstring said “no more” to the uneven pace and Baysa let the four women go, settling in.

“I was going on my own pace and confident because of my good training that I was going to catch up to them,” said Baysa, a veteran of more than two dozen marathons and a two-time winner of both the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (2010 and 2012) and the Paris Marathon (2009 and 2010) who was making her Boston debut. “Once I got to catch up with the third one, I was confident that I was going to do it. I knew I had the energy and the power.”

On the Men’s side, Ethiopian runner Lemi Berhanu Hayle surged in the 25th mile to beat out a host of defending Boston champions – including last year’s champ Lelisa Desisa.

“I was scared of Desisa,” commented Hayle after the race. “I only watched what he did…I came only to win the race, not to run fast.”

Meandering through the early miles, the large pack was full of the world’s best. Joining Hayle and Desisa were 2012 champion Wesley Korir of Kenya and last year’s runner-up Yemane Adhane Tsegay of Ethiopia, among others. There was more than enough firepower to burn up the roads out of Hopkinton.

However, having covered the mile between 23 and 24 very fast, Hayle injected a surge just as Desisa slowed for a water table. It was a text-book move and the change was immediate. Within a handful of strides, Hayle had gained two, then ten, then 20 meters, and the deal was done. As Desisa stole painful glances over his shoulder to ascertain who might be closing, Hayle roared onward.

“I didn’t believe it until the finish line,” asserted Hayle, who’d break the finish tape in 2:12:45 after celebrating on Boylston Street. “I thought that somebody would still take over. I’m so very happy. I’ve won some races before this one, but today feels like my birthday.”

The first American to finish was 28 year-old Zachary Hine, originally from Massachusetts but now living in Dallas, TX. Hine placed tenth in a time of 2:21:37.

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