BOSTON, April 19- Defending champions Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya are among a host of past winners in Monday’s 118th Boston Marathon, all mindful of last year’s bombing tragedy.
Two bombs hidden inside backpacks exploded near the finish line of last year’s race, killing three people and injuring more than 250 others, leading to tighter security at marathons worldwide.
But it also sparked a “Boston Strong” movement, celebrating those who battled back from injuries and a city’s determination to bounce back, a spirit to which baseball’s Boston Red Sox dedicated their 2013 World Series crown.
“Runners, we get knocked down, we have to come back,” said four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers. “It’s just like what happened with the bombing. You can’t keep marathoners down.”
Rodgers will serve as the grand marshal of the event, although a hamstring strain suffered two weeks ago will keep him from running the 26.2 miles.
“After the bombing last year, I wanted to run Boston this year,” he said. “I was in pretty good shape for an old timer at 66.”
Other past Boston Marathon greats return to join this year’s field of 36,000 runners, including 56-year-old Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1979 and 1983 Boston women’s winner and 1984 Olympic champion.
“Because of what happened last year and because it’s the 30th anniversary of (winning the) Olympic marathon, I’m here for a myriad of reasons,” she said. “I’m either going to run as hard as I possibly can or I’ll run with my daughter or son.”
Amby Burfoot, 67 and the only man to win a Boston Marathon and Olympic Marathon, was unable to finish last year’s race due to the bombings but is back to finish this time.
– Shock and horror –
And then there are the elite runners, whose race last year was over before the explosions that brought shock and horror but whose efforts set the pace this year for the determined thousands who will follow.
Desisa, trying to be the first repeat Boston men’s winner since 2008, won last year in two hours, 10 minutes and 22 seconds, five seconds ahead of runner-up Micah Kogo of Kenya and six ahead of countryman Gebre Gebremariam.
Last year’s Dubai champion was second at the 2013 world championships last August in his only marathon since Boston, although he captured a half-marathon triumph two months ago in the United Arab Emirates.
Reigning Chicago Marathon champion Dennis Kimetto set a course record and personal best of 2:03:45 last year in the Windy City but his best runs have come on flatter courses rather than the hilly layout Boston offers.
Kogo was fourth at Chicago in addition to second at Boston last year and Gebremariam has not won since his 2010 New York triumph, his first bid at the distance.
Other hopefuls include Ethiopia’s Markos Geneti, the Dubai Marathon runner-up last Janaury in 2:05:13 who last won in his marathon debut at Los Angeles in 2011, and Kenya’s Wilson Chebet, a three-time Amsterdam winner and former Rotterdam champion who was fifth in 2012 in his only prior Boston start.
On the women’s side, Jeptoo, 33, won last year at Chicago as well, trimming her personal best to 2:19:57. Her training partner, compatriot Jemima Sumgong, was second at Chicago last year and in Boston in 2012 by only two seconds and might be ready for victory this time around.
Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba, who went to China and won the Xiamen Marathon earlier this year for her first title at the distance, and 2013 New York Marathon runner-up Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia, figure to contend.
Kenya’s Sharon Cherop, the 2012 Boston winner, and compatriot Caroline Kilel, the 2011 Boston champion, could challenge once again.
And Shalane Flanagan will try to become the first American woman to win at Boston since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985 after a fourth-place showing last year in her Boston debut.