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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Galen Rupp, fit, fast, faces familiar foe at Boston Marathon

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Galen Rupp finished second in his Boston Marathon debut last year despite not knowing if he would start the race two weeks prior.

This year, Rupp had ideal, personal-best-time lead-up into the world’s oldest annual marathon. If it wasn’t for the defending champion, he might be the heavy favorite.

Rupp, a two-time Olympic medalist, contests his fifth career marathon Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold). Early weather forecasts call for rain, temperatures in the upper 40s and 20 mph winds. Not ideal for the runners or for making predictions.

Rupp can bolster his argument as the best U.S. distance runners of all time. He already has Olympic 10,000m and marathon medals. In his last marathon, Rupp became the first American-born male runner to win the Chicago Marathon in 35 years.

On Monday, he can become the first American-born male runner to win the Boston Marathon in 35 years.

(It’s a convenient but misleading stat. Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 Boston champ, was born in Eritrea but moved from the war-torn nation to the U.S. at age 12 and matured into a competitive runner in high school and college in Southern California. He ran in all four of his Olympics for the red, white and blue and is arguably the most celebrated American runner of all time.)

Rupp’s lead-up half-marathon results in 2017 were a scratch (plantar fasciitis) and an 11th place (two weeks before Boston, still with foot discomfort). A cortisone shot worked wonders for him on Patriots’ Day.

This year? Rupp clocked a personal best over 13.1 miles on March 11. His 59:47 in Rome was four seconds shy of Ryan Hall‘s American record.

The Boston field also plays into Rupp’s favor. It lacks the world’s best marathoners — like Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele, who are running London on April 22.

That said, the Boston field was of similar strength last year, when relative unknown Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya and Rupp broke from the pack in the 20th mile. Kirui surged with three miles left to prevail by 21 seconds.

Kirui defends his title Monday and is joined by the two Boston winners before him — Kenyan Lemi Berhanu and Ethiopian veteran Lelisa Desisa.

Like Rupp, Kirui won his last marathon, taking the world championships in London on Aug. 6 by 82 seconds. Kirui, a father of three like Rupp, has just as much marathon experience as Rupp, a faster personal best by nearly three minutes and is almost six years younger than the American.

But he hasn’t raced this year. Marathons are the toughest track and field event to predict, as shown by Rupp’s results leading into Boston last year.

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Geoffrey Kirui gives Kenya gold in men’s marathon

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LONDON (AP) — Geoffrey Kirui gave Kenya a record fifth men’s marathon title at the world championships on Sunday, winning a seesaw race with Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia that finished on London’s famed Tower Bridge.

Kirui had to come from behind to pass Tola in the final quarter of the race. And once he got through the winding streets of London, Kirui found the way clear for a victorious run along the River Thames over the last miles.

Kirui won in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 27 seconds, creating such a gap over Tola that he had time to slap the outstretched hands of fans in the finishing straight before crossing the line. Tola weakened at the end and just held off bronze medalist Alphonce Simbu of Tanzania at the end.

Tola first shook off Kirui about three-quarters through the race but overestimated his strength. Slowly, the Kenyan came back and took over the lead by the 35-kilometer mark.

Kirui, who won the Boston Marathon in April, got his nation its first men’s marathon title since 2011.

In the Olympic Stadium, the heptathlon was nearing its finale with Olympic champion Nafi Thiam in a strong position. She regained the lead with only two events left when she won the long jump with a leap of 6.57 meters.

Overnight leader Carolin Schaefer jumped only 6.20.

The javelin and 800 meters still remain later Sunday.

Other finals on Sunday are the women’s marathon, 100 meters and pole vault, and the men’s shot put.

After the Americans went 1-2 in the men’s 100 meters with Justin Gatlin taking gold and reducing Usain Bolt to bronze, Olympic champion Elaine Thompson will be seeking to get one back for Jamaica. Tori Bowie leads the U.S. challenge.

The U.S. team could well win more medals with Ryan Crouser favored to add the world title to his Olympic shot put gold.

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