Previewing the 2018 Boston Marathon: Four Elite Women Vie to End U.S. Drought

The 122nd Boston Marathon features four elites seeking to end a 33-year drought for American women, while the reigning champions look to defend their titles amid challenger bids.
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BOSTON – The 122nd Boston Marathon is shaping up to be another historic race after organizers managed to land the four best U.S. female marathoners to try and end a 33-year drought without an American women’s champion. It will be no easy task, as reigning champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya returns to defend her title and is one of three East Africans who have run under 2:20. The men’s race is headlined by a rematch of last year’s victor Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya and runner-up Galen Rupp, the 2017 Chicago Marathon champion and two-time Olympic medalist.

On Monday, the elite women will start at 9:32 a.m. ET and the elite men will go off at 10 a.m. ET. The race will be broadcast live on TV on NBC Sports Network but can also be streamed on NBC Sports Gold. I will be in Boston providing live updates on Twitter—you can follow along here.

Women’s Elite Race

The Reigning Champion

Edna Kiplagat, Kenya
Personal best: 2:19:50

At 37 years old, Kiplagat broke the the field before the race hit Heartbreak Hill at Mile 21 and came away with last year’s title with ease. She followed up that victory by winning a silver medal at the 2017 IAAF World Championship and then took fourth at the New York City Marathon in November. She has not raced in 2018 but you’d have to assume that if training went well without any hiccups, she will contend as always in a marathon without pacers.

Can An American Woman Win?

No American woman has won since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. The closest that anyone has come was Desiree Linden’s runner-up finish in 2011. Last year, Jordan Hasay managed to finish on the podium with a third place showing in her marathon debut. This year’s field of international women is not as strong as past years and the odds of an American win are looking great. There are four U.S. women who can contend for the win.

Jordan Hasay, USA
Personal best: 2:20:57, 2017 Chicago Marathon

Hasay is the second-fastest American woman in the field. American record holder Deena Kastor is in the field but is now 45 years old and 18 months removed from her previous marathon, so she may not contend for the title. Hasay is coming off a third place finish in 2:20:57 at the Chicago Marathon, which makes her the second-fastest American woman of all-time. Of the entire Boston Marathon field, she has the fastest personal best from the past three years, so a recency bias would favor her. Hasay enters this race as a proven marathoner with her two stellar races. The only question mark was a precautionary scratch from last month’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

Shalane Flanagan, USA
Personal best: 2:21:14, 2014 Berlin Marathon

Flanagan stunned many with her win at the 2017 New York City Marathon, where she took down a field that included women’s-only marathon world record holder Mary Keitany of Kenya. Flanagan contemplated retirement after the win but ultimately could not pass up one more Boston Marathon. The Marblehead, Mass., native missed last year’s race due to a back injury and the time off ultimately helped her rest up for her New York City breakthrough. At 36 years old, she’s showing zero signs of slowing down. If this were to be her final marathon, she will not be one to treat it as a victory lap for her extremely accomplished career. In previous years, Flanagan has not been afraid to take the lead and it’ll be interesting (depending on the weather conditions) if she does this to try and wear down any possible “kick” by the younger stars, such as Hasay or Molly Huddle.

Desiree Linden, USA
Personal best: 2:22:38, 2011 Boston Marathon

Linden is 34 years old but remains hungry for the win in Boston since her shortcoming by just two seconds in 2011. Her consistency in the past decade has been incredible. She’s finished as the fastest or second-fastest U.S. woman in eight of the last 10 years. She’s finished fourth in Boston in 2015 and 2017. Of the four American stars, Linden may have the lowest odds, but she thrives in that dark horse role.

Molly Huddle, USA
Personal best: 2:28:13

The personal best is deceiving but it appears that Huddle is the consensus favorite among the Americans based off her credentials on the track, roads and as a 26-time U.S. champion. The numbers speak for her. She has not lost to an American woman on the roads since 2012, which means a 30-race streak is on the line. Huddle is 6–19 in her head-to-to-head career against Flanagan but is 6–0 since November 2011. She is 11–0 all-time against Jordan Hasay including two wins in 2018. She’s 12–0 against Linden. It may be a small sample size but she’s 2–0 against Kiplagat. Many of those races were not marathons because her only 26.2 run was a third place finish at the 2016 New York City Marathon. Huddle set the American record for the half marathon January and then won the U.S. 15K Championships in March. Her training went very well and it’s the first time that it’s marathon-specific. Her result in New York came after a summer of training for the U.S. Olympic Trials and then setting an American record of 30:13 in the 10,000 meters at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The balance, development and transition from the track to the roads has been flawless for Huddle as a professional. She sees herself as a marathoner of the future and Monday could be an epic breakthrough.

Men’s Elite Race


The Reigning Champion

Geoffrey Kirui, Kenya
Personal best: 2:06:27, 2016 Amsterdam Marathon

Kirui and Rupp put on quite the duel in last year’s hot conditions. Kirui dropped Rupp after about 22 miles and ended up winning in 2:09:37—21 seconds ahead of the American. Kirui went on to win gold at the IAAF World Championships in London, which also brought warm conditions. The X factor here would be how would he fare in a possibly damp and rainy Boston Marathon on Monday. He has not yet raced in 2018.

The American Star

Galen Rupp, USA
Personal best: 2:09:20, 2017 Chicago Marathon

After Rupp’s success on the track, it comes as no surprise that he has thrived in the marathon. He won the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, won a bronze medal at the Olympics in Rio, took second in Boston last year and then won October’s Chicago Marathon. Rupp is not among the top 10 fastest runners in the field because his personal best is not as indicative of his talent. He has yet to contest a marathon for a fast time. He’s fared well in championship-style races. The Chicago Marathon played right into his hands. He waited until the 22nd mile to make his move and drop the lone remaining Kenyan in the race. Rupp’s closing speed from 35K to the finish line was clocked at 20:37, which is very fast. Couple his speed with the experience from last year and Rupp could be dangerous. Competitors can’t be blamed for letting the pace of a race dawdle but if it does on Monday, Rupp will be ready to pounce.

There’s a chance that an American man and woman could win the Boston Marathon in the same year. That has not been accomplished since Greg Meyer and Joan Benoit in 1983.


Other contenders

Tamirat Tola, Ethiopia
Personal best: 2:04:11, 2017 Dubai Marathon

The athlete with the fastest personal best in the field can’t be ignored. He ran that fast time on a pancake of a course but then showed his racing and tactical prowess by finishing second to Kirui at the IAAF World Championships. He’s run 2:04:06 already in 2018 with a third place showing in January’s Dubai Marathon. This will be his debut on the World Marathon Majors stage so it will be interesting to see him compete with some of the best of the world.

Lemi Berhanu, Ethiopia
Personal best: 2:04:33, 2016 Dubai Marathon

Berhanu won the 2016 Boston Marathon in 2:12:45 but dropped out of last year’s race. If the race is slow, he can close hard. He has not raced in 2018.

Lelisa Desisa, Ethiopia
Personal best: 2:04:45, 2013 Dubai Marathon

Desisa has won the Boston Marathon in 2013 and 2015. He finished second in 2016. He missed last year’s race because he participated in Nike’s Breaking2 attempt to break two hours in the marathon. Desisa bonked in the time trial and finished with a time of 2:14:10. He rebounded by finishing third at the New York City Marathon in 2:11:32. In his 10 appearances at the World Marathon Majors, he has finished on the podium seven times. A past champion can not be counted out.

Dark Horse

Nobert Kigen, Kenya
Personal best: 2:05:13, 2017 Amsterdam Marathon

Kigen will be making his debut at the World Marathon Majors Stage and could be a rising star out of Kenya. He is just 25 years old. He has broken 60 minutes for the half marathon and finished second in 2:05:13 at the 2017 Amsterdam Marathon, where five men broke 2:06.