Three years ago, Meb Keflezighi made history at the Boston Marathon, becoming the first American man to win the race in 31 years.
He’s called it his most meaningful victory. It brought him to tears.
That it came in the year following the bombing at the finish line in 2013 — an event that galvanized the city into “Boston Strong” — made the race on Patriots’ Day all the more memorable.
“To win in 2014, that was very special,” Keflezighi said recently.
Now, as the 121st Boston Marathon approaches this Monday, April 17, the scene is set for a race with multiple storylines that seems primed to produce another day to remember in the world’s oldest existing annual marathon. Consider:
Keflezighi, a winner at Boston and New York City and a silver medalist at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, will run Boston for the final time. At 41, he’ll retire from elite marathoning after the New York City Marathon in November. He’s made dramatic victories a big part of his career. Does he have one more in him?
While Keflezighi says goodbye, Kathrine Switzer will say hello again. Switzer, 70, will run Boston on the 50th anniversary of becoming the first woman to run as a registered entrant. In 1967, when the race still didn’t allow women to run, she signed up as “K.V. Switzer” and was issued No. 261 — then had to fend off an official during the race who tried to stop her. She became an icon of women’s running and went on to win at New York City in 1974 and was second at Boston in 1975.
Defending champions Lemi Berhanu Hayle (men) and Atsede Baysa (women), both of Ethiopia, return. Hayle, who ran 2:12:45 in 2016, could be the first repeat men’s champion since Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot of Kenya, who won from 2006-2008. Baysa, who ran 2:29:19 to win in dramatic, comeback fashion, could be the first official back-to-back women’s champion since Catherine Ndereba of Kenya in 2004-2005. (Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won in 2013-14 but later was disqualified for 2014.)
The race features six past Boston champions, 18 Olympians and two Olympic medalists (Keflezighi and American Galen Rupp, who won bronze last summer in Rio). Eight men have run under 2:05:30. The world-record holder, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya (2:02:57 at Berlin in 2014), had to pull out recently because of an injury.
Strong U.S. Men’s Contingent
The U.S. men’s contingent is one of the most talented in years, with Rupp, Keflezighi, 2016 Olympian Jared Ward (who finished sixth in Rio), four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, Sean Quigley and Shadrack Biwott entered.
Women To Watch
On the women’s side, 2014 winner Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia could give Baysa a run. Deba finished seventh last year but holds the course record (2:19:56) in 2014. Gladys Cherono of Kenya has the fastest career time in the field (2:19:25 at Berlin in 2015). Also running is Edna Kiplagat of Kenya, who has won two world championships (2011 and 2013) and titles at Los Angeles, London and New York City. Two-time New York winner Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia — who has been second twice at Boston — is another top challenger.
Linden Wants A Win
The American women’s field is led by Desi Linden, a two-time Olympian who was seventh at Rio last year. Linden, 33, has said she wants to be the first U.S. women’s winner since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. “I don’t think you should be afraid of your goals,” Linden said recently. “If you can’t say it out loud, you don’t really buy into it.” Linden finished second in 2011 to Caroline Kilel of Kenya (by two seconds) and was fourth in her last Boston appearance in 2015.
Several runners with terrific résumés will be making their Boston debuts, including former Oregon distance star Luke Puskedra — who had the fastest time for an American in 2015 (2:10:24 at Chicago) — and another former Oregon standout, Jordan Hasay. This will be Hasay’s marathon debut. Recently, she ran the third-fastest time ever for an American woman in the half-marathon at Prague (1:07.55). Until recently, Hasay’s focus had been on the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
In the wheelchair division, American Tatyana McFadden — who has four straight victories in this race — will return to defend her title. Marcel Hug of Switzerland tries for a third straight men’s championship, but will have to hold off a strong field that includes South African Ernst van Dyk, who lost a photo finish to Hug in 2016 and has a record 10 Boston championships.
Boston’s Iron Man
This year also will mark the 50th consecutive Boston Marathon for Ben Beach of Bethesda, Maryland. Beach, 67, ran his first race as a Harvard freshman in 1968.
The women’s elite field will begin from the starting point in Hopkinton at 9:32 a.m.; the elite men will take off at 10 a.m. Winning men and women will receive $150,000. Wheelchair winners will receive $20,000.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.