Desi Linden is first U.S. woman to win Boston Marathon since 1985

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It was never Desi Linden‘s day.

Not at the California high school state championships, which she never won. Not at Arizona State, where her best NCAA Championships result was 10th. As a professional, Linden had already far exceeded expectations with a pair of Olympic Trials runners-up and a second-place finish at the 2011 Boston Marathon (two seconds behind the winner). But she never broke the tape at a major race.

Then came Monday, the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. High 30s at the Hopkinton start. Headwinds of 20 mph. A downpour. “Hypothermia is the key here,” race director Dave McGillivray said on the local TV broadcast.

“Honestly, at mile 2, 3, 4, I didn’t feel like I was even making it to the finish line,” Linden, 34, said. She wasn’t alone.

But this was Linden’s day.

The 5-foot-2, self-described (and labeled by many others) “grinder,” book nerd and Scottish whiskey connoisseur became the first U.S. female runner to win the world’s oldest annual marathon in 33 years. The first in the professional era, since prize money was first awarded and the elite international fields became dominated by East Africans.

Linden clocked 2:39:54 (slowest winning time since 1978, that weather), crossing 4:10 ahead of unknown American Sarah Sellers, who paid a $185 entry fee and was one of two nurses to finish in the top five. Sellers was a surprise, as was men’s winner Yuki Kawauchi (more on the Japanese here), but as others said, Linden was built for this thinking-person’s race and these conditions.

“I know I’m biased when I say this, but I always feel like she’s the smartest, racer, tactician, whatever you want to call it,” Kevin Hanson, who coaches Linden in Michigan, told media afterward. “Mother Nature threw the big dilemma at everybody, which means that there was a whole additional amount of thinking that had to take place.”

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | Finish-Line Camera

Linden’s thoughts in the first few miles were of quitting. She said as much to Massachusetts native Shalane Flanagan, who on Nov. 5 became the first U.S. female runner to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years. Flanagan finished seventh on Monday in what she expected to be her last Boston Marathon.

“Des came up to me around mile 6 and said, hey, it’s not going to be my day, I think I’m going to drop out,” Flanagan recalled. Flanagan grabbed her rival’s shoulder. Linden continued, “If there’s anything I can do to help you, just let me know.”

“OK, this is weird,” the four-time Olympian Flanagan thought. “I was waiting for her, any second, to drop out.”

A half-hour passed. Linden was still with Flanagan and the leaders at mile 12 or 13. So Flanagan took Linden up on the offer and told her that she needed to stop at an upcoming port-a-potty. Flanagan didn’t say it, but she hoped Linden would look out for her on the return and help pace her back to the pack.

“I was like, basically, asking her like she was my mom,” Flanagan said. “Do you think I can go to the bathroom? She was like, yeah, I got you. I think you’ve got enough time. We’re running slow enough, it’s fine.”

Flanagan veered right and into the second portable bathroom. She spent 14 seconds inside — timed by LetsRun’s Jonathan Gault — and emerged on the wet pavement. Linden drifted to the caboose of the jacketed group of eight, repeatedly looking back for Flanagan.

Linden helped Flanagan to the group. Then she helped Molly Huddle reconnect, too. The two-time Olympian Huddle was, along with Flanagan, Jordan Hasay and Linden, one of four U.S. women who came to Boston with realistic chances of ending the 33-year drought.

Linden received the least pre-race press of the four. Flanagan was coming off her NYC title. Huddle broke the American record in the half marathon in January. Hasay became the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever at her last outing in Chicago on Oct. 8 but dropped out of Monday’s race on Sunday night with a heel injury.

Linden chose not to race a fall marathon, then produced her slowest career 13.1-mile time in 17 half marathons in her Boston prep race. That came in 29 degrees on a new course and into a headwind, though.

When Hanson saw the Patriots’ Day forecast, “I thought her chances of victory increased 10-fold,” he said. “She just embraced the weather when other people said we’re going to try to pretend it’s not going on.”

Soon after helping Huddle (who would finish 16th before a Tuesday root canal), Linden found herself in third or fourth place. Linden, who graduated from Arizona State with degrees in religious studies and psychology, did some more thinking.

“And thought I probably shouldn’t drop out,” she said, to press-conference laughter, “so I kept going.”

Ethiopian Mamitu Daska, 34 like Linden and third in New York last fall, moved in the 14th mile. Linden dropped about 30 seconds back with 2017 Boston winner Edna Kiplagat and another Kenyan, Gladys Chesir.

Linden, so tactically proficient that she ran identical 13.1-mile splits in Boston last year (fourth place), was pretty solid this year — 1:19:42 for the first half, 1:20:12 for the second.

The others faded. Linden went from third to first in the 22nd mile. By the turn onto Boylston Street, she led by four minutes. She dared not look back, though.

“2011 put the fear in me,” Linden said.

Of all of Linden’s near misses in major races, the 2011 Boston Marathon stuck with her. She lost a sprint to Kenyan Caroline Kilel by two seconds. That fall and spring was Linden’s coming out.

Desi Davila, before she married pro runner and triathlete Ryan Linden, ran a personal best by five minutes at the October 2010 Chicago Marathon and finished second. Then she ran nearly four minutes faster than that in Boston six months later.

This for a woman who didn’t break 16 minutes for 5000m in college and ran 2:44:56 in her marathon debut in Boston in 2007. She was 18th then. Monday marked the 11th anniversary.

“In 2007, no one believed I would be sitting here, that’s for sure,” Linden said at Monday’s winners’ press conference, gold wreath resting on her head. “The [Boston Athletic Association] treated us like rock stars. They came in, showed us their history and museum. Hey, these are so-and-so’s shoes. You could have your stuff in here one day. They just treated us like we belonged. That made me want to be a marathoner.”

Linden, in a black-and-lime green jacket with a No. 8 bib pinned on its side, raised her arms in her final strides. She blew a kiss with her black gloves just before crossing the blue tape. She was enveloped by an American flag and loved ones.

“It hurts right now,” she said in a finish-line TV interview, “but it’s a perfect day for me.”

The World Marathon Majors season continues with the London Marathon on Sunday, live at 3:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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Four U.S. women look to end Boston Marathon drought

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When 14-year-old Shalane Flanagan watched in person as her father ran the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996, she would have seen more than 20 female runners pass by before the first American woman.

When Flanagan made her Boston Marathon debut in 2013, she was the top American in fourth place.

This year, Flanagan is one of four with a realistic chance to become the first U.S. female runner since 1985 to win the world’s oldest annual marathon. In 1986, the Boston Marathon started awarding prize money, and the world’s top runners flooded to the Hopkinton start line year after year.

Flanagan, fellow Olympians Molly Huddle and Desi Linden, plus Jordan Hasay are among the favorites Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

All have finished in the top three of a major marathon. This year’s Boston field also lacks the world’s fastest women over 26.2 miles — Kenyan Mary Keitany and Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba. The 2017 winner, Kenyan Edna Kiplagat, defends her title, but the feeling is the time is ripe for the Americans.

The 36-year-old Flanagan is coming off the biggest win of her career — which has spanned four Olympics — at the 2017 New York City Marathon.

Flanagan, who grew up in the Boston area, mulled retiring after that race but ultimately chose to continue on, in part because of what happened at her last start in Boston. She has declined media requests to focus on preparation.

The two-time Olympian Huddle is the American record holder at 10,000m. She was last beaten by a countrywoman in a road race in 2012, according to Tilastopaja.org. In her two warm-up races for Boston, the 33-year-old broke the American record in the half marathon and beat Hasay by 50 seconds in a 15km (also in a personal best).

But this is just Huddle’s second marathon and her first since 2016 New York City (where she placed third).

Linden, 34, has the most Boston experience and success of this quartet, including fourth-place finishes in her last two starts and a runner-up in 2011, two seconds behind the winner. But her warm-up, the New York City Half on March 18, produced her slowest career 13.1-mile time in 17 half marathons, according to Tilastopaja, though it came in 29 degrees on a new course and into a headwind.

Hasay, who made the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500m final at age 16, proved successful in her switch to the marathon last year at the tender age of 25.

She finished third in Boston with the fastest debut marathon by a U.S. woman by three minutes. Then she went two minutes faster in Chicago, another third place, and, more notably, the second-fastest marathon ever by an American.

But Hasay was beaten soundly by Huddle in two winter road races, granted Hasay ran faster than she did in the same races in 2017. Then Hasay withdrew before the world half marathon championships three weeks ago with foot tightness.

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Galen Rupp runner-up as U.S. shines at Boston Marathon

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Kenyan runners swept the Boston Marathon titles, but the U.S. had its best combined male and female finishes since 1985 on Monday.

Rio Olympic bronze medalist Galen Rupp finished second in his first city marathon, 21 seconds behind Kenyan Geoffrey Kirui. Kirui prevailed in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 37 seconds, on a warm day with temperatures in the 70s.

Jordan Hasay, who like Rupp trains under 1982 Boston winner Alberto Salazar, was third in her marathon debut. Hasay crossed 69 seconds behind champion Edna Kiplagat, who clocked 2:21:52.

The Boston Marathon started awarding prize money in 1986, a greater incentive for the world’s top runners to take part. This is the second year since that the U.S put male and female runners in the top three (Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall were both third in 2009).

Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 Boston winner, finished 13th in the men’s race, more than seven minutes behind Kirui. The 41-year-old Keflezighi ran Boston for the final time as an elite racer.

Full Boston Marathon results are here.

Rupp, 30, ran his first marathon last year after a decorated track career that included a 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medal. He won the February 2016 Olympic Trials marathon before earning bronze in Rio.

Rupp entered Boston as one of the favorites given the field lacked the world’s best handful of marathoners.

Rupp and Kirui were alone when Kirui made his move with about three miles left. Kirui, 24, was not one of the pre-race favorites, largely because he had never contested a major marathon (nor won either of his previous marathons).

“Just didn’t have an answer for him,” Rupp said on NBCSN. “I was really happy with the way I ran. You know, I wasn’t sure two weeks ago if I was even going to be able to come here and start and run.”

Rupp withdrew before January’s Houston Half Marathon with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Two weeks ago, he spoke of left foot discomfort after finishing 11th in a half marathon in Prague. But a cortisone shot worked wonders.

He ran Monday wearing a white cap given to him by two-time Boston winner Joan Benoit in the hotel lobby that morning. Rupp has a long way to go to reach the status of Benoit, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion, but he seems intent on chasing it.

“I have a lot of room to grow,” said Rupp, who plans to race his final season on the track this summer before moving full-time to the marathon.

The U.S. put six men in the top 10. Keflezighi was not one of them.

The Eritrean-born 2004 Olympic silver medalist has just one marathon left, the 26th of his career in New York City on Nov. 5. Keflezighi struggled Monday, finishing outside the top eight in Boston for the first time.

“I went for it early on, but it was pretty warm and really tough conditions, and training wasn’t the greatest training I ever had,” said Keflezighi, who noted Achilles problems before the race and quad issues after. “It’s not like a victory that I could have ended up with, but at the same time, I enjoyed every bit of it.”

Keflezighi said he broke down in tears about two minutes after finishing, flooded with the emotions brought on by support from the crowd along the course. He noted one sign telling him he was a hero.

“Everybody was saying you’re our hero, we love you, and all that,” said Keflezighi, the only U.S. male or female runner to win Boston since 1985. “Even if you finish 15th or 20th, they still love you.”

In a poignant finish-area moment, Keflezighi embraced the family of Martin Richard on Boylston Street, feet away from where Richard, then 8 years old, was killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

In the women’s race, the 37-year-old Kiplagat became the second-oldest winner in Boston history. Her time was the fastest-ever by a woman that old, according to the IAAF’s Jon Mulkeen.

Kiplagat has five children — two biological, two adopted from her sister who died from breast cancer and one adopted from a neighbor who died in childbirth, according to the Chicago Marathon. She has won two world titles and the London and New York City Marathons, but this was her first marathon win since 2014.

Hasay and two-time U.S. Olympian Desi Linden were part of a group of six leaders that began disintegrating after Kiplagat surged around the 19-mile mark.

Hasay’s ability to hang on for third proved to her that moving from the track to the roads at such a young age — 25 — was the right call.

“It was kind of a risky decision,” said Hasay, who ran the fastest debut marathon by a U.S. woman by three minutes. “We weren’t sure how it was going to play out, but it seems like this is definitely my distance. … I can’t wait to do another one.”

Hasay said she ran the entire 26.2 miles with the voice of her mom in her head. Teresa Hasay died unexpectedly at age 56 in November for a reason the family is keeping private.

Teresa used to call Jordan “Paula,” after Jordan’s idol, British marathoner Paula Radcliffe.

On Monday, Jordan repeated to herself, “Good job, Paula, good job, Paula,” along the course.

She always told me that I could be a great marathoner,” Jordan said of her mom.

Of all the Americans, many predicted Linden had the best shot at winning. She was disappointed in placing fourth. Linden remains the fastest U.S. female marathoner never to win a 26.2-mile race.

“I feel like I’ve poured everything into this to figure out how I can get better,” Linden said. “Maybe this is my peak, you know.”

Earlier, 17-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden finished fourth in the wheelchair division, weeks after surgeries for blood clots. McFadden had previously won each of the world’s four major city marathons each of the last four years.

Swiss Manuela Schar won Boston in 1 hour, 28 minutes, 17 seconds, a course record by nearly six minutes.

McFadden, born in Russia paralyzed from the waist down and adopted from a St. Petersburg orphanage at age 6 by an American, is the only marathoner, able-bodied or wheelchair, to sweep Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in one year, let alone four.

McFadden shockingly lost the Rio Paralympic marathon in a photo finish (video here).

In the men’s wheelchair race Monday, Swiss Marcel Hug won his third straight Boston title. Hug, the Rio Paralympic marathon champion, clocked 1:18:04, the fastest wheelchair marathon time ever.

The time does not count for record purposes as Boston is not a record-eligible course due to its point-to-point, net downhill layout.

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