Ethiopian runs away from world-class field to win the 120th Boston Marathon.
By Barbara Huebner
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. Coming on the 50th anniversary of her pioneering run, the drama 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. Baysa, who turned 29 on Saturday, became the fourth Ethiopian woman to win here, following in the footsteps of Teyba Erkesso (2010), Dire Tune (2008) and Fatuma Roba (1997-1999). Unlike Gibb, she not only didn’t have to jump out from behind any bushes at the start line, but she also earned the same $150,000 as the male winner.
Finishing second was Tsegaye, in 2:30:03, followed by Chepkirui in 2:30:50. Neely Spence Gracey, running her debut marathon, was the first American and ninth overall (2:35:00). Winning the master’s division was Hilary Corno, 40, of Encinitas, CA in 2:48:49, 20th overall. Gracey, 26, was pleased with her debut (“2:35 and a top ten finish, I met my goals”) and tickled to find herself, along with college rival Sarah Crouch, in front at mile five. The pair appeared to share a laugh as they ran.
“We were commenting back and forth, saying ‘Wow, we are leading the Boston Marathon! We need to take this in and relish the moment.’”
Although the day was sunny and warm – 69 degrees at the start – the early slow pace on the virtually windless day was still a surprise, with early miles of 6:05, 5:47, and 5:53. But a bigger surprise came with a fourth mile of 5:38, followed by a fifth of 5:54. Was this a marathon or an interval workout?
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.
Daniel didn’t last long, falling back by mile 19 to leave Tsegaye, Chepkirui, and Kipketer to tackle Heartbreak Hill. By Cleveland Circle, Kipketer had dropped back and it was down to two.
But not for long, because here came that yellow dot. “Once I got to catch up with the third one, I was confident that I was going to do it,” said Baysa. “I knew I had the energy and the power.”
After recording a 5K split of 18:08 between 30K and 35K, Baysa would blaze the next five kilometers in 16:43 (to Tsegaye’s 17:27). In the process, Baysa not only made up her 37-second deficit at 35K, but broke the tape 42 seconds ahead of her compatriot, an astonishing swing of one minute and nine seconds in the final seven kilometers that left long-time race observers shaking their heads in disbelief. “I tried, but I knew she was stronger,” said Tsegaye, winner of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon three months ago in a personal best 2:19:41. “So I went for second place.”
Which isn’t bad at all, when you consider that 50 years ago there was no such
thing as second place.