BOSTON " Ethiopia's Deriba Merga overcame the disappointment of his Olympic fade to win the Boston Marathon on Monday, and Kenya's Salina Kosgei won the closest women's race in the history of the event. Americans took third in both races for the best U.S. finish since 1985.
Merga, who was passed in the last quarter-mile and finished fourth in Beijing, pulled away before Heartbreak Hill and won in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 42 seconds " almost a full minute ahead of Kenya's Daniel Rono and American Ryan Hall.
"I've never experienced anything like this," said Hall, who took the early lead and was shoulder-to-shoulder with the leaders until they passed from Wellesley into Newton, with about 10 miles to go. "And I've been in the Rose Parade, so that's a pretty big deal."
Kosgei won a sprint with defending champion Dire Tune, trading the lead several times in the final blocks of Boylston Street before hitting the tape less than a stride ahead of the Ethiopian in 2:32:16. American Kara Goucher led the three as they crossed the MassPike into Kenmore Square with one mile to go, but she was outkicked down the stretch and finished 9 seconds back.
"I just wanted it for everybody that wanted it for me," said Goucher, whose voice cracked repeatedly in the postrace news conference. "I'm proud of how I did. I just wanted to be the one that won " for everybody."
The winners will take home $150,000, but Merga had to wait for his traditional laurel wreath: The women, who had a 30-minute head start, ran so slowly and the men's pace was so fast that he crossed the finish line before Kosgei had a chance to climb the champion's podium.
"I was little bit embarrassed," said Colleen De Reuck, a 45-year-old four-time Olympian and naturalized U.S. citizen who grabbed the lead out of frustration and finished eighth. "You come to a marathon and a big marathon like this, you get paid a lot of money to come and run and I think you should race."
No American has won in Boston since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985, when the U.S. women swept the top three and the men came in second and third. But the presence of Goucher and Hall among the leaders brought out fans holding "Go Kara!" signs and chanting for the U.S. runners.
"People were so proud to see an American up front, and there was a lot of 'U.S.A.!' cheering," Goucher said. "Two Americans in the top three is fantastic. I think once things settle in a bit, it'll be a really great day, we'll be really proud of this."
The women's race was the slowest since 1985, a pace that had the men's leaders passing the female stragglers and approaching the final mile as the women were hitting the tape.
Goucher burst into tears and was consoled by her husband, and Tune fell to the pavement for several minutes after the final sprint. A race spokesman said Tune was hospitalized as a precaution; defending champion Robert Cheruiyot, who was going for an unprecedented fourth straight title and fifth overall, dropped out of the race between the 35K and 40K markers and was taken to a hospital.
One year after Tune outkicked Alevtina Biktimirova to win by 2 seconds in what was then the closest women's finish ever, the Ethiopian traded places with Kosgei several times on the last long stretch to the tape. The only closer finish in the 113-year history of the event was in 2000, when Elijah Lagat beat Gezahegne Abera with an identical time of 2:09:47.
South African Ernst Van Dyk breezed to his eighth win in the men's wheelchair race, matching the all-categories Boston Marathon record set by Jean Driscoll, who won eight women's wheelchair races. Japan's Wakako Tsuchida won her third straight women's wheelchair race.
A field of 26,386 runners left Hopkinton in the morning with temperatures in the 40s and a stiff headwind. Hundreds of thousands lined the 26-mile, 385-yard course that winds up and down through seven suburbs before ending in Boston's Back Bay.
The top runners were easier to spot this year, wearing their names on their bibs instead of numbers so the hundreds of thousands of fans along the course could cheer them on.
Another runner was easily identifiable by his number: Air traffic controller Patrick Harten wore No. 1549 to honor his role in the safe landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. He finished in 2:47:19 " 355th overall.
Four-time winner "Boston Billy" Rodgers, back in the race for the first time in a decade, beating his goal of 4 hours by one minute. Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, wearing green and his 2008 NBA championship ring, finished in 4:16:49.
Hall, who came into the race with the fastest personal best in the field, moved quickly to the lead on record-setting pace before a pack of 13 settled into a more comfortable groove. The women's race was much slower, setting off at a 6:28 pace that would have brought them to Boston in the slowest time since 1973.
Kosgei said the weather made the challenging course even more difficult.
"The wind was a bit stronger. ... So, it was very hard," Kosgei said. "I decided I must try. So, I tried."