BOSTON — The Kenyans finally face a challenge to their dominance of the Boston Marathon, and it’s from their East African neighbors.
Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa took the title in the 117th edition of the world’s oldest marathon Monday, winning a three-way sprint down Boylston Street to finish in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds and snap a string of three consecutive Kenyan victories.
“Here we have a relative newcomer,” said Ethiopia’s Gebregziabher Gebremariam, who finished third. “Everything changes.”
In just his second race at the 26.2-mile distance, Desisa finished five seconds ahead of Kenya’s Micah Kogo to earn $150,000 and the traditional olive wreath. American Jason Hartmann finished fourth for the second year in a row.
“It was more of a tactical race, the Ethiopian versus the Kenyans. That fight played out very well,” defending champion Wesley Korir, a Kenyan citizen and U.S. resident, said after finishing fifth.
“The Ethiopians run very good tactical races. One thing I always say is, ‘Whenever you see more than five Ethiopians in a race, you ought to be very careful.’ As Kenyans, we ought to go back to the drawing board and see if we can get our teamwork back.”
Rita Jeptoo averted the Keynan shutout by winning the women’s race for the second time. Jeptoo, who also won in 2006, finished in 2:26:25 for her first victory in a major race since taking two years off after having a baby.
After a series of close finishes in the women’s race — five consecutive years with 3 seconds or less separating the top two — Jeptoo had a relatively comfortable 33-second margin over Meseret Hailu of Ethiopia. Defending champion Sharon Cherop of Kenya was another three seconds back.
Shalane Flanagan, of nearby Marblehead, was fourth in the women’s division in her attempt to earn the first American victory in Boston since 1985. (Two-time winner Joan Benoit Samuelson, running on the 30th anniversary of her 1983 victory, finished in 2:50:29 to set a world record for her age group.)
“The hardest part about Boston is the Bostonians want it just as bad as we do, which really tugs at our heart,” said Flanagan, a three-time Olympian. “We all want it too. We want to be the next Joanie.”
Kara Goucher, of Portland, Ore., was sixth for her third top 10 finish in Boston as many tries. The last American woman to win here was Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in ’85; Greg Meyer was the last U.S. man to win, in 1983.
“There’s just more pure numbers of African runners,” said Goucher, who noted that the field of five American women with personal bests under 2:30 was the strongest in years.
“That’s a good team of American women,” she said. “One day the opportunity is going to be there.”
This year it was the men’s race with the sprint to the finish.
Desisa, 23, was among a group of nine men — all from Kenya or Ethiopia — who broke away from the pack in the first half of the race. There were three remaining when they came out of Kenmore Square with a mile to go.
But Desisa quickly pulled away and widened his distance in the sprint to the tape. It’s Desisa’s second victory in as many marathons, having won in Dubai in January in 2:04:45.
He is the fourth Ethiopian to win the men’s race and the first since his training partner, Deriba Merga, won in 2009. Desisa is the 24th East African to win in the past 26 years and Jeptoo is 15th East African winner in the last 17 years on the women’s side.
A year after heat approaching 90 degrees sent record numbers of participants in search of medical help, temperatures in the high 40s greeted the field of 24,662 at the start in Hopkinton. It climbed to 54 degrees by the time the winners reached Copley Square in Boston.
Japan’s Hiroyuki Yamamoto was the first winner of the day, cruising to victory in the men’s wheelchair race by 39 seconds over nine-time champion Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa. Tatyana McFadden, a Russian orphan who attends the University of Illinois, won the women’s race.
Race day got started with 26 seconds of silence in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. A little more than 2 hours later, the lead runners passed the Mile 26 marker, which was decorated with the Newtown, Conn., seal and dedicated to the memory of those killed there.
The 53 wheelchair competitors left Hopkinton at 9:17 a.m., followed 15 minutes later by the 51 elite women. The men were under way at 10 a.m., followed by three waves that over the next 40 minutes sent the entire field on its way to Copley Square.
Last year’s race came under the hottest sustained temperatures on record. About 2,300 runners took organizers up on the offer to sit that one out and run this year instead.