By James O’Brien
In one of the most exciting finishes in Boston Marathon history, three men took the famous turn on Hereford Street in tandem, setting the stage for a memorable sprint down Boylston Street. The 123rd Boston Marathon would turn out to be a kicker’s classic, as Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono edged Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa by two seconds at the line, 2:07:57 to 2:07:59, using every ounce of energy to break the tape. Kenneth Kipkemoi finished third in 2:08:07.
Although Cherono came into the race as the fastest man in the field, courtesy of his 2:04:06 course record in Amsterdam last year, he could never have been deemed a demonstrative favorite given the depth of assembled talent that included five Boston champions. After splits of 15:10, 30:21 and 64:28 for 5K, 10K and half way, more than 20 men still were in contention at the midway point. The rolling hills and steadily increasing humidity could have been expected to take a progressive toll as the race transitioned into Newton, but no one relented.
On the first of the three infamous Newton hills, Geoffrey Kirui took the initiative, then a mile later it was American Scott Fauble moving towards the front. Fauble later commented: “It was such a surreal experience to lead a race that I grew up watching.”
The gloves finally came off at 21 miles, when the leaders had been trimmed to seven: Fauble, Kirui, Desisa, Cherono, Kipkemoi, Philemon Rono, and Felix Kandie. Kirui appeared particularly comfortable, as did Kipkemboi, despite having lost 100 meters earlier in the race when he was forced to stop to adjust his shoe. With five miles still to run, the outcome remained impossible to determine.
With the Newton hills behind them, Kirui assumed control. Increasing the tempo gradually, the 2017 champion covered mile 23 to 24 in a withering 4:31. Talam was dropped; ironically, it was a move that also proved Kirui’s undoing.
Passing Fenway Park and entering Kenmore Square, the group was down to three: Kipkemoi, Cherono and Desisa. As Kipkemoi and Cherono battled shoulder to shoulder, Desisa held his favored position -- tucked in behind, waiting to unleash the kick that has proved so effective so often.
Making the right turn onto Hereford Street in unison, Desisa injected an increase in pace that brought him from third to first inches ahead of the battling Kenyans. Swinging left onto Boylston Street with the finish line visible in the distance, Desisa surged again with hopes of solidifying his third title.
Shoulder to shoulder along the finishing straight, Desisa reached out as if to claw his way to the crown. Yet with mere feet remaining, Cherono found a reserve of speed that Desisa just could not match. Desisa almost stumbled across the line, but Cherono forged ahead, opening a two second margin and claiming the gold olive wreath in 2:07:57.
“I am so grateful, so happy,” stated the newly crowned winner, whose victory was his first in an Abbott World Marathon Majors event. “To me, I am poor in finishing races. But today, I did a fantastic job. It was very nice for me.”
Cherono’s effort showed, as he had to be held on each side as he made the champion’s walk to the awards platform. Despite the pain, Cherono couldn’t help but smile and laugh as he clutched the winner’s trophy.
“[At] 40K we were two and three people. So it was no man’s race to win,” he recounted. “But to me I keep on forecasting and the end I matched the winner. So I am grateful and so happy.”
Desisa took second in 2:07:59, with Kipkemoi rounding out the podium in 2:08:07. When asked if he was surprised he lost in a sprint, Desisa shook his head and said “For me it is the first time.”
Top American honors went to Fauble, finishing in 2:09:09 just ahead of Jared Ward (2:09:25). The masters division title was earned by Abdi Abdirahman in 2:18:56.