Peres Jepchirchir and Evans Chebet ensured that two vastly different races both ended with thrilling finishes when the Boston Marathon, a World Athletics Elite Platinum Label road race, returned for its 126th edition on Monday.
While Olympic champion Jepchirchir was locked in fierce battle with Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh right to the end, Chebet claimed a clear win after breaking away from a large lead group with a killer kick at 22 miles.
Achieving a Kenyan double, Jepchirchir clocked 2:21:01 to win by four seconds, while Chebet cruised to victory in 2:06:51, half a minute ahead of his compatriot Lawrence Cherono, the Tokyo Olympics fourth-place finisher.
The women’s race had been billed as a head-to-head between Jepchirchir and her compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei – last year’s London Marathon winner and a fellow world half marathon record-breaker – and for a large part of the race that looked to be the case, with Yeshaneh adding to the challenge.
But when Jepkosgei was dropped at around 23 miles, Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh – who has also set a world half marathon record in her career – were left to fight for the finish.
Trading the lead numerous times in an exciting final mile, Jepchirchir dug deep to follow her Olympic and New York marathon wins last year with another victory – her fifth win from the six marathons she has contested in her career so far.
Jepchirchir said: “The course is tough, but I thank God that I managed to win the race. I thought that Ababel was feeling strong. I pushed it and I felt tired and fell behind but I didn’t lose hope. I am feeling grateful and honoured.”
Yeshaneh couldn’t respond to Jepchirchir’s final powerful surge but was just a few seconds back, claiming the runner-up spot in 2:21:05 to add to her other top three finishes in Chicago and New York over the past few years.
Kenya’s Mary Ngugi came through to finish third in 2:21:32 and her compatriot Edna Kiplagat – the two-time world champion and winner in Boston in 2017 – finished fourth in 2:21:40.
When the epic battle really commenced, Jepchirchir kicked hard with a mile to go but Yeshaneh reeled her back in.
The Olympic champion had soon returned to running in Yeshaneh’s slipstream but when Yeshaneh misjudged a turn, Jepchirchir followed the most direct blue line and edged ahead.
Yeshaneh wasn’t giving up easily though and managed to cover each of Jepchirchir’s surges, until she gritted her teeth for one final push that was enough to triumph, adding another success to her impressive CV.
Behind fourth-placed Kiplagat was Ngige, fifth in 2:22:13, while Cheptoo was sixth in 2:23:47 and Jepkosgei seventh in 2:24:43. Azimeraw (2:25:23), Britain’s Charlotte Purdue (2:25:26) and USA’s Nell Rojas (2:25:57) also finished in the top 10.
In contrast to the women’s race, the men’s event featured a large lead group right up to 35km, which was when Chebet decided to make his move.
The 2020 world leader, thanks to his 2:03:00 Valencia Marathon win, had achieved top four finishes in the previous 12 marathons he had completed, but his only did not finish had come in Boston in 2018. He rebounded from that in style.
But no one could live with Chebet’s 13:55 split to 40km (2:00:26) and although chasing hard, Cherono and Kipruto were 18 seconds back at that point.
Pushing on, Chebet had increased that lead to 30 seconds by the finish.
“I knew that my competitors were capable of a lot, so I was really trying to give them range so that they were behind me and they stayed behind me,” Chebet said, speaking through an interpreter.
“In 2018 I ran (the Boston Marathon) but I had to sit down and rest so I didn’t finish. So this is a commendable performance because today I completed the race.”