As Kenyan Evans Chebet crossed the finish line to win the Boston Marathon men’s race, it was clear that the story of the day was unfolding four miles behind him.
In the women’s race that started eight minutes after the men, fellow Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the Olympic gold medalist, and Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh were about to drop Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, the world No. 2 female marathoner last year.
For the next nine minutes, Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh ran side by side. They bumped into and jawed at each other multiple times.
Yeshaneh finally took the front. Then Jerpchirchir countered and the see-sawing began. In the last mile, they exchanged the lead six times.
Jepchirchir moved ahead for good with the Boylston Street finish line in sight. She crossed it in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 1 seconds — just four seconds ahead of Yeshaneh.
It was a duel for the ages, one that cemented Jepchirchir as the world’s top female marathoner. And it came on the 50th anniversary of the first official women’s race in Boston, the world’s oldest annual marathon dating to 1897.
“When you see the end, and when you see the tape for the finish, that’s where the strength comes,” Jepchirchir, a 28-year-old mom, said on USA Network.
Already the only person to win the Olympic and New York City Marathons in a career, Jepchirchir has now won arguably the three most prestigious marathons in a span of eight months.
She grew up racing on the track, running two to three miles to and from school each day, in a family of farmers who grew tea and maize.
She won the world half marathon championship in 2016, then had daughter Natalia in October 2017 and came back to earn her first marathon victory in December 2019.
“I remember when my daughter, Natalia, was 6 months old, when I started training, sometimes I would wake up to change early to go for training, then she also wakes up … so I’d stay and breast feed first,” Jepchirchir said before Boston, according to Olympics.com. “It wasn’t easy, but I worked extra hard to shed off the extra weight and return to my normal shape. Also having a baby motivated me in some way. I worked even harder knowing someone is depending on me.”
She was originally left off the Kenyan Olympic team in January 2020, then won the December 2020 Valencia Marathon in the world’s best time for the year (2:17:16), beginning what is now a five-marathon win streak.
Kenyan Mary Ngugi was third Monday. The top American was Nell Rojas in 10th. Des Linden, the last American runner to win Boston in 2018, was 13th.
“I’m towards the end of my marathon career, and with the last few years nothing major going on or major events, it’s easy to be like, What’s the point? This isn’t really that fun,” said Linden, a 38-year-old who hasn’t decided if she will compete through the 2024 Olympics. “A day like today reignites the fire and the passion.
“If they keep inviting me [to Boston], I’ll keep showing up.”
Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel dropped out around the 16th mile with hip pain.
Chebet clocked 2:06:51 for his first major marathon victory, leading the first Kenyan men’s podium sweep in Boston since 2012. The 2019 Boston winner Lawrence Cherono was second, 30 seconds behind, followed by Benson Kipruto, who won Boston last year when it was held in October.
“At the beginning I was not confident, I didn’t know I would come out as the winner,” Chebet said. “I observed that my counterparts were nowhere close to me and that gave me the motivation and determination to hit it off and be the winner.”
Chebet had the second-fastest personal best of arguably the deepest Boston field ever, a 2:03:00 from winning the 2020 Valencia Marathon. The farmer from the Kalenjin tribe beat nine major marathon champions on Monday.
Scott Fauble was the top U.S. man in seventh in a personal-best 2:08:52, the second-fastest marathon for an American since the start of 2020.
Boston was held on its traditional Patriots’ Day date for the first time since 2019. The race was held virtually in 2020 and moved to October in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s Boston fields were arguably the best ever, thanks in large part to the other major spring marathon, London, being pushed back to October for a third consecutive year due to the pandemic.
American Daniel Romanchuk won the men’s wheelchair race in 1:26:58 after defending champion Marcel Hug of Switzerland withdrew before the morning start.
Swiss Manuela Schär earned her fourth women’s wheelchair title in the last five Boston Marathons.
The next major marathon is at the world track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July. The U.S. qualifiers include two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp, Seidel, Emma Bates and Sara Hall.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk