BOSTON – Two-time Boston Marathon champion Lelisa Desisa turned onto Boylston Street with a sliver of a lead, leaning in front of two other runners with the finish line in sight.
Unfortunately for him, one of them was the fastest man in the field.
Lawrence Cherono needed every bit of his speed to outkick Desisa in a sprint to the tape on Monday, passing him just steps away from the finish line to win the 123rd Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 57 seconds.
Desisa, who won in 2015 and 2013, the year the race was overshadowed by a bombing at the finish line, eased up after realizing he was beaten and finished 2 seconds back. Kenneth Kipkemoi was third, another 8 seconds behind, one of seven Kenyans in the top 10.
“It was no man’s race to win,” said Cherono, who had won in Seville, Prague, Honolulu and twice in Amsterdam but never in a major marathon before. “I kept on focusing. And at the end, I was the winner. I’m so grateful, so happy.”
Worknesh Degefa broke away from defending champion Des Linden and the rest of the women’s pack in the Framingham flats and ran alone for the last 20 miles to claim the $150,000 first prize and a gilded olive wreath from Marathon, Greece.
The 28-year-old Ethiopian, who set a national record while finishing second in Dubai less than 3 months ago, won in 2:23:31. Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat was second, reducing a gap of more than two minutes to 42 seconds at the finish.
American Jordan Hasay was third and Linden was fifth.
“Seeing Degefa go out – you know her ability, you know what she’s done and you wonder how it translates to this course,” Linden said. “But when she starts putting down those super quick miles, you say ‘All right, this is her race to lose.’ She becomes the outlier and you let her just go and hope that she might come back.”
Instead, she became the eighth Ethiopian woman to win the race and the third in 7 years. A half marathon specialist, Degefa had never seen the Boston course before Monday.
“Last year, I watched all the marathon coverage,” she said. “I kept that in my mind.”
One year after an icy rain and a near-gale headwind resulted in the slowest winning times in four decades, race organizers again prepared for the foul New England weather. But overnight thunderstorms moved on before the runners left Hopkinton; the sun even made an appearance about halfway through.
Linden took advantage of last year’s storm to splash her way to the first win for an American woman since 1985.
But with conditions back to normal, so were the results: East Africans from Kenya and Ethiopia dominating the podiums. At the 30K mark the lead pack was still close to a dozen and included three of the last four champions: Desisa, 2016 winner Geoffrey Kirui and ‘17 champ Lemi Berhanu Hayle.
“I was afraid of the guy who won 2 years ago. After he dropped out, I decided to win,” said Desisa, who did not finish in either of the last two years. “I tried at the last, I saw [Cherono] suddenly, then I couldn’t control the pace.”
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t have many problems on the Boston Marathon course Monday, finishing in 3:09:07.
It was only after receiving his medal from 2014 winner Meb Keflezighi that Johnson ran into a road block: On his way to a postrace media availability, security wouldn’t let him through.
On the course, it was a different story.
“I couldn’t believe how many people did spot me,” Johnson said. “Once somebody would recognize me, the crowd would get going and I could kind of egg them on and get everybody pretty loud, which is a lot of fun.”
Unlike at a NASCAR race, when the fans are split among 40 different drivers, Johnson felt like the spectators lining the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston’s Copley Square were cheering for everyone. Other runners also recognized him and offered pointers.
“I had countless people come by and [be] like, ‘All right, I know it’s your first. We’ve got this coming up. Get another gel,’” he said. “It never happens at my day job. There’s never advice passed out.”