Reigning Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir capped the celebration of a half-century of women in the Boston Marathon with a finish to top them all.
The 28-year-old Kenyan won a see-saw sprint down the stretch on Monday, when the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon returned to its traditional spring start for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the 50th anniversary of the first official women’s race, Jepchirchir traded places with Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh eight times in the final mile before pulling ahead for good on Boylston Street and finishing in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 1 second.
“I was feeling she was strong. I pushed it,” said Jepchirchir, who earned $150,000 and the traditional gilded olive wreath to go with her Olympic gold medal and 2021 New York City Marathon title. “I fell behind. But I didn’t lose hope.”
In the men’s race, Evans Chebet completed the Kenyan sweep, breaking free with about four miles to go to finish in 2:06:51 for his first major marathon victory. Gabriel Geay of Tanzania was second, 30 seconds back, and defending champion Benson Kipruto was third.
Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, B.C., and Calgary’s Trevor Hofbauer were the top Canadians in the women’s and men’s races and posted the best times ever by a Canadian runner in their respective competitions.
The 42-year-old Elmore, the current Canadian women’s marathon record holder, was 11th in the women’s race in 2:27.58.
Hofbauer, 30, was 15th in the men’s race in 2:10.52. Both times were under the qualifying standards for the world championships.
Elmore is the head coach of the UBC Okanagan cross-country program. According to a UBCO press release, Elmore was second in her age category.
“Boston exceeded my expectations in so many ways,” Elmore said in the press release. “What a blast to run the lined streets of New England and whenever things felt tough, there was someone there to shout my name.”
“The Boston experience was phenomenal,” said Hofbauer. “From start to finish, the race course was lined with people, and at some points, my ears were ringing from all the noise.
“You don’t get that anywhere else, especially for 42 kilometres from point to point. The Boston hype is definitely real.”
UBCO said Elmore, who finished ninth at the Olympics last summer, lowered her time from Tokyo by over three minutes, competing in conditions much more favourable for running.
“It was a hard race for me and I felt the toll of the rollers early on but I was happy to stick to my race plan and finished the race strong, even with a kick to dip under 2:28,” added Elmore.
Hofbauer, who finished 49th at the Summer Games, also lowered his Olympic time by nine minutes. In Boston, he finished just four minutes behind the winner.
“The race went well and my training prepared me well for it,” said Hofbauer. “Training in the Okanagan with all of the hills set me up for success and I am happy with how it all played out.”
Daniel Romanchuk of Champaign, Illinois, won his second career wheelchair title in 1:26:58. Switzerland’s Manuela Schar won her second straight Boston crown and fourth overall, finishing in 1:41:08.
Sharing a Patriots’ Day weekend with the Boston Red Sox home opener — the city’s other sporting rite of spring — more than 28,000 runners returned to the streets from Hopkinton to Copley Square six months after a smaller and socially distanced event that was the only fall race in its 126-year history.
Fans waved Ukrainian flags in support of the runners whose 26.2-mile run Monday was the easiest part of their journey. Athletes from Russia and Belarus were disinvited in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Forty-four Ukrainians had registered for the race; only 11 started. Those who were unable to make it to Boston were offered a deferral or refund.
“Whatever they want to do, they can do,” Boston Athletic Association President Tom Grilk said. “Run this year, run next year. You want a puppy? Whatever. There is no group we want to be more helpful to.”
This race marked the 50th anniversary of Nina Kuscsik’s victory in the first official women’s race. (But not the first woman to finish: That honour belongs to Bobbi Gibb, who first ran in 1966 among the unofficial runners known as bandits).
At Wellesley College, the women’s school near the halfway point, the iconic “scream tunnel” was back after the pandemic-induced absence — and louder than ever. One spectator in Wellesley held a sign that read “50 Years Women Running Boston,” along with names of the eight who broke the gender barrier in 1972.
Five of the original pioneers returned for this year’s celebration, including Valerie Rogosheske, who finished sixth in ’72; she ran alongside her daughters this year and served as the honorary starter for the women’s elite field.
Rogosheske, who wore Bib No. 1972, said at the starting line that she had been planning to hide in the bushes and run as a bandit 50 years ago until women got the go-ahead a few weeks before the race.
“It’s a reminder that we’ve got it pretty easy,” said 2018 winner Des Linden, who finished 13th on Monday. “Fifty years ago, they were breaking barriers and doing the hard part.
“It’s really not lost on me that there’s 126 years of race history here, and we’re ‘Rah! Rah!’-ing 50,” she said. “But you can’t look back, you look forward.”
— With files from Doyle Potenteau