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Lawrence Cherono wins Boston Marathon in third-closest finish ever

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BOSTON — Kenyan Lawrence Cherono won the Boston Marathon by two seconds, edging Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa in the third-closest men’s finish in the race’s 123-year history.

Cherono, a 30-year-old Kenyan, overtook a flailing, slowing Desisa in the final feet of the 26.2-mile event on Boylston Street to win his first major marathon in 2:07:57. Desisa, racing on the anniversary of his 2013 Boston Marathon win that was followed hours later by twin bombings, was seeking his third Boston title.

“It was something amazing,” Cherono said of the closest finish since Elijah Lagat beat Gezahegne Abera in the same time in 2000. “It was not easy.”

Ethiopian Worknesh Degefa won the women’s race in contrastingly convincing fashion, leading alone the last 22 miles and prevailing by 44 seconds over 2017 Boston champ Edna Kiplagat of Kenya. Americans Jordan Hasay and 2018 Boston winner Des Linden were third and fifth, respectively.

“I knew today was going to be a big task to defend,” Linden said on NBCSN. “I had a blast.”

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | Finish Line Camera

Degefa, who on Jan. 25 became the fourth-fastest female marathoner ever in pancake-flat Dubai, shockingly went off on her own in the fourth mile. She led by 90 seconds at 10 miles and nearly 2:30 at the halfway point. Degefa, 28, has never raced a marathon outside Dubai, and, according to TV commentators, did not do a pre-race course tour of Boston.

Though 39-year-old Kiplagat closed in the final miles, Degefa was able to celebrate down Boylston Street. She delivered on pre-race favorite status, having the fastest personal best of the field by two minutes.

“[My husband and coach] said you have good speed, when you have comfortable, just go,” Degefa said through a translator.

Cherono, too, had the fastest personal best in the men’s field, where the top American finishers were Scott Fauble and Jared Ward in seventh and eighth. Surprise 2018 Boston winner Yuki Kawauchi of Japan was 17th.

For the women, Hasay and Linden remain among the favorites for the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon in Atlanta on Feb. 29, though Linden is undecided on her next move at age 35. Top runners sometimes skip a fall marathon to prepare for trials, which determine the three Olympians per gender.

Other Olympic contenders include 2017 New York City champ Shalane Flanagan, who has said she may not race again and may be facing surgery, Molly Huddle, who races London in two weeks, and 2017 World bronze medalist Amy Cragg.

In the wheelchair division, Daniel Romanchuk became the youngest Boston Marathon champion at age 20 and the first American winner since 1993. His time, 1:21:36, gave him a near-three-minute win and the fastest time by a U.S. wheelchair racer ever in Boston. On Nov. 4, Romanchuk became the youngest male and first American male wheelchair racer to win the New York City Marathon.

Swiss Manuela Schär won the women’s wheelchair title for the second time three years. Schär, who prevailed by 7:16 over Tatyana McFadden in 1:34:19, now holds the current Boston, Berlin, Chicago, New York City and Tokyo Marathon titles.

MORE: Shalane Flanagan may need surgery, starts post-racing career

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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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