LEMMA, OBIRI ARE BOSTON MARATHON CHAMPIONS
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2024 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission. 

BOSTON (15-Apr) — Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia and Hellen Obiri of Kenya used radically different strategies to win today’s Boston Marathon.  Lemma, 33, ran away from the field early in the race, built up over a two-minute lead, and held on to cross the finish line on Boylston Street in 2:06:17 with a 41-second cushion.  Obiri, 34, waited until the last seven kilometers to break away from a pack of 12, eventually overcame a formidable challenge from compatriot Sharon Lokedi, and won in 2:22:37, her second consecutive win here.  Both winners earned $150,000 in prize money.

LEMMA SWINGS FOR THE FENCES

Lemma, who won last December’s Valencia Marathon in a personal best 2:01:48, wanted to run fast today.  He zipped through the first 5-K in 14:21 with another nine athletes close behind, then split the next 5-K in a hard-to-believe 14:07.  Not even two-time defending champion Evans Chebet of Kenya was willing to risk that pace.

“It was a deliberate decision to stay with the pack,” Chebet told reporters after the race.  He continued: “So we could work as a team and finish together.”

But Lemma preferred to go it alone.  He ran 14:15 and 14:30 for the following two five-kilometer segments, then blasted through halfway in 1:00:19, the fastest ever in race history (even faster than in Valencia last December).  His lead was up to one minute and 49 seconds.

“I wanted redemption,” said Lemma, who dropped out of this race twice in 2017 and 2022.  He continued: “My plan was to break the course record.”

Sisay Lemma takes 2024 Boston win, on his 4th try! photo by Jane Monti, Race Results Weekly, used with permission

Lemma’s attack continued.  Through 30-K (1:26:56) he was about a minute and a half faster than Geoffrey Mutai was in 2011 when he ran the still-standing course record of 2:03:02 and on pace for a 2:02:16 finish.  Lemma checked his watch.  He had felt suitable for most of the race, but the uphills in the race’s final quarter were taking a toll.  His pace slowed.

“I was watching my watch, checking my watch, trying to see how long I had run,” he said.  He added: Until halfway, I was running very hard, but after that, it was getting harder and harder to run.”

From 30 to 35 K, he ran only 16:00 and only a little faster from 35 to 40 K (15:55). His lead had fallen from a peak of two minutes and 49 seconds to one minute and 22 seconds. Yet, it would be good enough. He couldn’t be caught.

“I dropped out of this race several times before,” said Lemma, who also finished 30th here in 2019. I redeemed myself, and I’m very happy.”

Ethiopia’s Mohamed Esa, who was only fifth at 35-K, managed to pass Kenyans Evans Chebet, John Korir and Albert Korir to take second in 2:06:58.  Chebet was third in 2:07:22, John Korir fourth in 2:07:40, and Albert Korir fifth in 2:07:47.  The top American was C.J. Albertson in seventh place in 2:09:53.  Albertson had finished fifth in the Olympic Trials Marathon 72 days ago.

OBIRI’S TACTICS WERE PERFECT

The women’s race was far more tactical, and nobody wanted to lead or push the pace.  The lead pack was a hefty 21 athletes at the 5-K mark (16:36), and by the halfway mark (1:12:33), there were still 19 women in the lead group.  American Emma Bates, who had to scratch from the Olympic Trials due to an injury, was running much of the first half at the front.  She was a reluctant leader.

“I found myself in the lead repeatedly,” Bates told reporters.  “The rest of the pack would surge at the water stations, and I would just go around them.”

As each kilometer passed, the tension in the pack would build up to another level.  It was just a matter of time until someone would make a big move and break up the race.

“I tried to be patient,” Obiri said.  She continued: “I know that when I’m in the race, I try to do my best and be patient.”

Sisay Lemma and Hellen Obiri are the 2024 Boston Marathon winners, photo by Jane Monti, Race Results Weekly, used with permission

At the 35-K checkpoint (2:00:48) Obiri felt it was the right time to strike.  She ran the downhill 23rd mile in 4:57, then smoked the 24th in 4:41, faster than Krissy Gear had run to win the B.A.A. Invitational Mile here on Saturday (4:42.5).  In under ten minutes, the race was down to just Obiri and Lokedi.

“I was like, oh no,” Lokedi said when asked about those fast miles.  “I hoped I still had something left.”

She did, but not enough to beat Obiri, who has won world titles in indoor track, outdoor track, and cross country.  The pair were even at 40-K (2:15:54), but Obiri was able to pull away as the course dipped under the Massachusetts Avenue Underpass.  Furiously pumping her arms, she was determined to hold the lead.  She also knew she was probably running for a berth on the Kenyan Olympic team.

“Sharon is a strong lady,” Obiri said in the post-race press conference.  “I tried to push.”

With her victory today, Obiri became the race’s first repeat women’s champion since Kenyan Catherine Ndereba in 2004 and 2005.  Lokedi got second in 2:22:45, and Kiplagat –who won the race in both 2017 and 2021– took third in 2:23:21, a remarkable feat for a 44-year-old.  For Kiplagat, that was her 14th podium finish in an Abbott World Marathon Majors marathon (out of 27 starts).

“First of all I would like to congratulate Hellen,” said the gracious Kiplagat.  “It was an amazing race today.  Coming third was a good performance for me.”

Bates did not have the race she wanted; she finished 12th in 2:27:14.  However, she said that she felt a lot of appreciation from the fans as she ran along the course, especially in the race’s famous “scream tunnel” in Wellesley.  She got so many high-fives from fans she began to worry she was losing time.

“After I started, I couldn’t stop,” she said.

HUG AND RAINBOW COOPER WIN WHEELCHAIR TITLES

Switzerland’s Marcel Hug completely dominated the men’s wheelchair race,  despite crashing into a barrier late in the race when he failed to steer his chair properly around a turn. He pushed his way to an astonishing course record of 1:15:33, shattering his previous mark of 1:17:06 from 2023.  He earned $90,000 ($40,000 for the win and $50,000 for a course record).

“It was an incredible race,” said Hug.  He continued: “It took me a few kilometers to get a good rhythm, but after a while, I felt better and better, stronger and stronger.”

Marcel Hug of Switzerland and Eden Rainbow Cooper of Great Britain are the wheelchair champions of the 2024 Boston Marathon champions (Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
used with permission.

Eden Rainbow Cooper of Great Britain was the surprise women’s wheelchair champion.  Like Hug, she went to the lead at the beginning of the race and easily beat Swiss star Manuela Schar, 1:35:11 to 1:36:41.

“I just wanted to come here and finish the race and just have fun,” said Cooper, looking astonished.  “I can’t believe it. I had no idea.  I just went for it.”

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Race officials said that 26,569 runners started today’s race in several waves.  The official finisher count won’t be known until tomorrow.

The 2025 Boston Marathon will be held on Monday, April 21.

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