Lelisa Desisa, Caroline Rotich win titles at 119th Boston Marathon

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

BOSTON -- Lelisa Desisa won his first Boston Marathon in 2013.

He didn't have much time to celebrate.

A few hours after Desisa broke the tape on Boylston Street on Patriots' Day, two bombs near the finish line turned what should be the pinnacle of any distance runner's career into an afterthought.

Desisa earned his second Boston Marathon title Monday, finishing in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 17 seconds to claim a golden olive wreath, the $150,000 first prize and a winner's medal to replace the one he donated to the city two years ago in memory of the victims.

And this one he plans to enjoy.

"This medal, I think, is for me," Desisa said.

Kenya's Caroline Rotich won the women's race, beating Mare Dibaba in a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint down Boylston Street to win by 4 seconds as the world's most prestigious marathon took a tentative step back toward normal.

Boston Athletic Association spokesman Jack Fleming interrupted the winner's news conference to place the trophy on the table next to Desisa and 2014 winner Meb Keflezighi and thank them both for helping the race heal.

"In 2013, Lelisa had won and we were sitting in these same chairs. And then soon after, and unfortunately, Lelisa did not get to have the kind of victory celebration that a champion of the Boston Marathon should have," Fleming said. "Lelisa, we want you to get your due today."

Desisa was in the leading pack for the entire race, pulling away to beat countryman Yemane Adhane Tsegay by 31 seconds in the first 1-2 finish for Ethiopia in the race's history. Kenya's Wilson Chebet was third, another 34 seconds back.

Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford, Michigan, was the first American, in seventh. Keflezighi finished eighth a year after his victory -- the first for an American man since 1983 -- gave the city a tangible symbol of its comeback.

"I was crying on Boylston Street, because it was bringing up memories, good and bad," said Keflezighi, who wrote the names of the bombing victims on his race bib last year. "People were cheering like crazy, saying 'U-S-A!' I was chanting with them."

The 2004 Olympic silver medalist, who will turn 40 next month, was among the leaders until the 35-kilometer mark, when he took a drink of water that went down the wrong way. He had to stop five times to vomit.

As it did last year, the crowd encouraged him to go on. A few hundred feet from the finish, he sprinted to catch up to one of the female stragglers, grabbing her hand and crossing alongside her.

"It was an amazing opportunity for us to finish together," Keflezighi said. "Hopefully, it will be a memorable experience for both of us."

Two years after the explosions, "Boston Strong" was still ubiquitous -- on shirts and signs, written in chalk on the street and shouted by spectators. But the crowds along the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Copley Square were smaller than in 2014, no doubt thinned by the mid-40s temperatures, stiff wind and rain that was expected to pick up in the afternoon.

With many of the runners wearing long sleeves and gloves to fight off the cold, American Desiree Linden led for much of the women's race. But Linden fell off the pace in the final miles as Rotich and a pair of Ethiopians pulled away.

After Buzunesh Deba, last year's runner-up, fell behind at the final turn onto Boylston Street, Rotich and Dibaba ran together for the final quarter-mile, switching places before Rotich kicked into the lead for her first Boston title.

"I got to the last corner and I saw the finish line tape and I thought, 'This is it, I'm not going to let it go,'" said Rotich, who also collected $150,000 while giving Kenya its fifth straight women's champion. "I was like, 'No, not today.' And I kept going."

Rotich won in 2:24:55, with Deba in third. Linden finished fourth, and fellow U.S. Olympian Shalane Flanagan was ninth.

American Tatyana McFadden won her third straight women's wheelchair race, and Marcel Hug won his first men's title earlier Monday. Ernst Van Dyk, the most decorated Boston Marathon competitor in history, finished second in his attempt to win the race for an 11th time.

Security was visible but not intrusive for the second running since the bombings. State and local police, some riding bicycles and others on all-terrain vehicles, were supplemented by National Guard soldiers who walked alongside the road, applauding passing runners and occasionally reaching across the temporary fencing to high-five fans.

Officials were preparing for a crowd of 1 million spectators stretched along the route.

Like Desisa, they were also looking for something to celebrate.

"Last year was important to have a better ending than that day in 2013, and to support Boston," said Ramona Turner, who came from Winnipeg, Canada, to watch her husband run for the third year in a row. "This year, I'm here for the party."

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