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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