NYC champ looks to end her drought

Mass. na­tive Flanagan try­ing to be­come first U.S. win­ner in Bos­ton since 1985

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

BOS­TON — Grow­ing up in nearby Mar­ble­head, Sha­lane Flanagan watched her par­ents run the Bos­ton Marathon and thought, “I want to do that, too.”

Jor­dan Hasay watched Flanagan win in New York last fall, and had much the same idea.

“I looked up to her since I was a lit­tle kid,” said Hasay, who fin­ished third in Bos­ton in her marathon de­but last year and will re­turn to the course Mon­day as part of the most com­pet­i­tive pack of U.S. women to run the race in decades.

“It feels weird to be rac­ing her in a marathon. I feel a lit­tle in­tim­i­dated by her with all her cre­den­tials,” Hasay said. “All the Amer­i­cans are an inspiration.”

No U.S. wo­man has won the Bos­ton Marathon since Lisa Larsen-Wei­den­bach in 1985, the year be­fore the his­toric race be­gan of­fer­ing prize money that lured the top in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sion­als to town. Meb Ke­flezighi’s cathar­tic vic­tory in 2014, one year af­ter the bomb­ings that killed three spec­ta­tors and wounded hun­dreds more, ended a men’s drought that had stretched to 1983.

In that time, Kenyans and Ethiopi­ans dom­i­nated the podium and of­ten shut the Amer­i­cans out of the top 10 en­tirely. But the lo­cals are catch­ing up. Last year, Amer­i­cans took two of the top four women’s spots and six of the top 10 for men — the first time that’s hap­pened in the pro­fes­sional era. Hasay was third and Desi Lin­den was fourth, her fourth top 10 fin­ish in the race in as many tries; Flanagan was in­jured and did not run, but she’s back in the field this year for what she says will be her fi­nal at­tempt to win her home­town race.

“Ev­ery­thing’s ripe for the tak­ing, and I think we’re go­ing to,” said Lin­den, a two-time Olympian who fin­ished second by 2 sec­onds in 2011.

“The ex­cit­ing thing is: No one’s say­ing ‘I want to be top Amer­i­can.’ It’s: ‘I want to break the tape,’ ” she said. “That’s not good enough any­more. It’s a whole new ball­game.”

De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Ge­of­frey Kirui and Edna Kiplagat, both Kenyan, will lead a field of more than 30,000 run­ners on the 26.2-mile trek from Hop­kin­ton to Co­p­ley Square in the 122nd run­ning of the world’s old­est and most pres­ti­gious an­nual marathon.

The top Amer­i­can men in­clude Olympic bronze medal­ist Galen Rupp, along with Shadrack Bi­wott, and Abdi Ab­di­rah­man, who fin­ished second, fourth and fifth in 2017. But it’s the women who give the Bos­ton crowd the best chance to hear “The Star-Spangled Ban­ner” waft­ing over Boyl­ston Street.

Join­ing Flanagan, Lin­den and Hasay are Molly Hud­dle, who fin­ished third in New York in 2016, and Ser­ena Burla, who was fourth in Osaka last year.

“In the past, some­times all the hope is placed on one per­son, so it’s kind of nice hav­ing the ex­cite­ment around four real con­tenders here,” Flanagan said. “It in­creases our chances of get­ting on the podium.”

The daugh­ter of dis­tance run­ners — her mother was the first wo­man to break 2 hours, 50 min­utes in the marathon — Flanagan made it a mis­sion to win in Bos­ton the year af­ter the at­tacks at the fin­ish line; she fin­ished fifth. She was ninth in 2015 be­fore skip­ping the next year to rest for the Rio Olympics and miss­ing last year with a back in­jury.

Then, last fall, she won the NYC Marathon to end a 40-year Amer­i­can drought there.

Now, she said, she can re­turn to her home­town streets with­out the pres­sure she once put on her­self for a legacy-defin­ing vic­tory.

“It’s more of a per­sonal thing, Bos­ton to me,” Flanagan said. “That’s some­thing I’ve had to work on, know­ing that’s part of my psy­chol­ogy that I tend to just want this race so badly, I al­most have to pre­tend that I don’t want to win it in or­der to do well.

“This is home, and these are the peo­ple that I want to make the most proud,” she said. “I want to make them proud that I’m from here, so I have to keep that in check at all times.”

Also re­liev­ing the pres­sure is the knowl­edge that Amer­i­can hopes aren’t all rid­ing on her: If she can’t end the drought in Bos­ton, maybe her New York vic­tory can in­spire the wo­man who does.

“Molly’s beaten me. Des has beaten me. What opened the eyes for the other Amer­i­can women was like, ‘If Sha­lane can do it, why can’t I do it?’ ” she said.

“It’s nice know­ing that if I don’t do it, I just have a re­ally great feel­ing that one of us will,” Flanagan said. “And that’s a great thing.”

ELISE AMENDOLA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sha­lane Flanagan, who grew up in nearby Mar­ble­head, Mass., is back in a Bos­ton Marathon field of 30,000 for what she says will be her fi­nal at­tempt to win the race.

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