BOSTON (AP) The American men ended their slump when Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon in 2014, a cathartic victory that allowed the ”Star-Spangled Banner” to play over Boylston Street one year after bombs exploded there.
This year, the U.S. women are hoping to end a drought lasting 30 years.
”The marathon gods blessed Meb with that run. It was electric,” said Shalane Flanagan, a native of suburban Marblehead who grew up following the race as the daughter of two marathoners.
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Flanagan finished fourth in 2013 and seventh last year in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 2 seconds – the best ever for an American woman on the Boston course.
”Last year was extremely special, just being an American,” she said. ”It’s a run I’ll never, ever forget.”
The 119th edition of the Boston Marathon is scheduled to leave Hopkinton on Monday morning, and this year’s field gives the United States two chances for its first women’s victory since Lisa Weidenbach in 1985. Joining Flanagan is Desiree Linden, who finished second in Boston in 2011.
Two-time defending champion Rita Jeptoo, who has been suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, won’t be back to go for a fourth Boston victory (she also won in 2006). Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba, the runner-up last year, was given the ”F1” bib in a ceremony Friday.
”There’s no one who stands out as a going-away favorite,” said Linden, who ran a personal best of 2:22:38 while finishing second here in 2011. ”Someone’s going to have to step up to do it.”
The Boston race has been dominated by East Africans into its second century, with Kenya and Ethiopia taking 16 of the last 18 women’s titles. They also won 24 of the 26 men’s races before Keflezighi gave the U.S. its first victory since 1983.
Now it could be the women’s turn.
Flanagan was fourth in the 2013 Boston race, crossing the finish line a few hours before two explosions there killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. She led early last year, when she conceded to being over-anxious in the aftermath of the bombings that scarred her hometown.
”Everyone knows that this is the one I want to win so badly,” Flanagan said. ”That’s probably been one of my downfalls – that I want it too much.”
Linden, who is from Rochester, Michigan, said she is healthy and fully recovered from a 2012 stress fracture. She spent six weeks training at altitude in Kenya, borrowing the techniques that have helped the Easy Africans dominate the distance.
Deba’s 2:19:59 last year was 62 seconds behind Jeptoo’s course record and also beat the old mark. In all, nine women in the 2015 field have personal bests of 2:22:38 or better.
”This is a field with a lot of women who have the same capabilities,” Flanagan said. ”It will be exciting.”
No one will be watching more intently than Greg Meyer, who won the men’s race in 1983 and for three decades resurfaced every April as the last American man to win Boston. With Keflezighi’s victory last year, he can no longer claim that distinction.
”Thank God,” Meyer said, adding that he hopes to see an American woman win this year. ”It’s good for the sport.”