Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi surges to win Boston Marathon
Yuki Kawauchi seemed like just another spotlight-seeking, early front-runner when he darted out to take the lead at the start of Monday’s Boston Marathon.
It turns out the veteran Japanese marathoner saved plenty for the finish, as well.
Kawauchi battled a steady headwind and blinding wet conditions to surge with a mile to go, overtaking Geoffrey Kirui to win his first Boston Marathon.
“I’ve been running for 26 years, and in 26 years this is by far the best day of my life,” Kawauchi said afterward through an interpreter.
Kawauchi crossed the finish line in a time of 2:15:58. He becomes the first Japanese man
to win Boston since Seko Toshihiko took the title in 1987. He is the first Asian runner to win the race since Korea’s Lee Bong-Ju in 2001.
Kawauchi joked that the wind and cold were the “best conditions possible.”
Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui was second in 2:18:23, followed by American Shadrack Biwott (SHAD-rack BE-watt) in 2:18:35. Biwott’s result marked a huge day for the American men which placed three runners in the top 5. It marks the second straight year that six American men placed in the top 10. Tyler Pennel was fourth (2:18:57) and Andrew Bumbalough finished fifth (2:19:52).
Meanwhile, the usually strong Kenyan team had only Kirui in the top 10.
It is the first major title for Kawauchi, who lists Bill “Boston Billy” Rodgers — a four-time winner of the race — as one of his mentors. It was also the person who Kawauchi says encouraged him to run Boston.
The last time a Japanese runner finished on top of the podium at the Boston Marathon was the same year Kawauchi was born.
“I can’t help but feel the hand of fate in this,” he said.
He’s also hoping this can be a watershed moment for a new generation of runners on a continent that is not known for its marathoners.
“It’s been a long time since an Asian has won here,” Kawauchi said. “The level of the sport in Asia is not at its peak right now. I hope this this will help to turn it around.”
Kawauchi sprinted out to an early lead before falling back. He surged several times during the soggy, windy race before finally sustaining it late to pass Kirui.
Front-running was one of “several scenarios” Kawauchi said he considered before the race.
“It played out that way,” he said.
Though he had never won a major marathon crown, the 31-year-old had captured more than 30 marathon titles in career. He ran 12 marathons in 2017 alone, winning five. He says he runs so many marathons mostly as a training device, with so few races in his native Kuki, Saitama, Japan.
In majors, he finished fourth in Tokyo in 2010 and third in 2011 in the same race.
Kirui seemed to be headed for the victory when he had passed the toughest stretch of Heartbreak Hill at around the 22-mile mark. He was maintaining about a 90-second gap.
“At that point I was trying to control the race. It was not my plan to push,” Kirui said.
It’s why he said he was not surprised that Kawauchi was able to make the move he did in the final few miles.
“The last mile was very tough,” Kirui said. “The legs become stiff so that gave me a challenge.”
Kawauchi was in almost a dead sprint when he passed Kirui with just about three miles to go. He was soon all alone as Kirui steadily faded.
Biwott nearly got on the podium in last year’s race, finishing fourth. He was fifth in New York in 2016.
He’s a native of Kenya, becoming an American citizen in 2012.
“I can’t believe today was the day. But I knew it was going to happen someday,” Biwott said of breaking through with his first major top 3 finish.
Kawauchi said he doesn’t plan to change his training regimen, even vowing to undertake a preplanned run on Tuesday. “Maybe one hour,” he said. And how long is that, exactly? “Maybe 10K.”
••• Desiree Linden splashed her way through icy rain and a near-gale headwind to win the Boston Marathon on Monday, the first victory for an American woman since 1985.
The two-time Olympian and 2011 Boston runner-up pulled away at the end of Heartbreak Hill to win in 2 hours, 39 minutes, 54 seconds. That was more than four minutes better than second-place finisher Sarah Sellers — one of seven Americans in the top 10 — but the slowest time for a women’s winner in Boston since 1978.
“It’s supposed to be hard,” said Linden, who wiped the spray of rain from her eyes as she made her way down Boylston Street alone. “It’s good to get it done.”
Yuki Kawauchi passed defending champion Geoffrey Kirui as they passed through Kenmore Square with a mile to go to win the men’s race in 2:15:58 and earn Japan’s first Boston Marathon title since 1987. Kirui slowed and stumbled across the Copley Square finish line 2:25 later, followed by Shadrack Biwott and three other U.S. men.
“For me, it’s the best conditions possible,” Kawauchi said with a wide smile through an interpreter.
On the fifth anniversary of the finish line explosions that killed three and wounded hundreds more, Linden and Kawauchi led a field of 30,000 runners through a drenching rain, temperatures in the mid-30s and gusts of up to 32 mph on the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton.
In Copley Square, Crowds only partly thinned and muffled by the weather greeted Linden with chants of “U-SA!”
Lisa Larsen Weidenbach’s 1985 victory was the last for an American woman — before the race began offering prize money that lured the top international competitors to the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon. Linden, a California native who lives in Michigan, nearly ended the drought in 2011 when she was outkicked down Boylston Street and finished second by 2 seconds during yet another Kenyan sweep.
But the East Africans who have dominated the professional era of the race had their worst performance in decades. Kirui was the only Kenyan in the top ten for the men’s race; defending champion Edna Kiplagat, who was ninth, helped prevent a shutout in the distaff division.
Hometown favorite Shalane Flanagan, a four-time Olympian and the reigning New York City Marathon champion, finished sixth after popping into a courseside portable toilet before the halfway point and falling behind the lead pack.
Marcel Hug of Switzerland earned his fifth wheelchair victory, pushing though puddles that sent the spray from their wheels into his eyes. American Tatyana McFadden, won the women’s wheelchair race for the fifth time, wore two jackets, with a layer of plastic between them and hand warmers against her chest.
“It was just tough, it was so freezing,” Hug said through chattering teeth as a volunteer draped a second towel around his shoulders. “I’m just very glad that I made it.”
Yuki Kawauchi, of Japan, leads the pack of elite runners in the second mile of the 122nd Boston Marathon on Monday in Hopkinton, Mass. Kawauchi won the race, and became the first Japanese man to win the race since 1987.