Original post, April 16, 2018
Repost, April 14, 2019
Kawauchi’s Storybook Finish Seals Boston Win
April 16th, 2018
On a day fit for neither man nor beast, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi was able to turn back the challenges of several fellow competitors and to endure the cruelest of Mother Nature’s meteorological conditions to win the wind-swept and rain-soaked 2018 Boston Marathon.
When the elite men’s start commenced amidst driving rain, a formidable headwind, and sub-freezing wind-chill temperatures, marathon aficionados scoffed when lightly-touted Kawauchi bolted to the front from the start and forged a sizeable early lead as he free-wheeled out of Hopkinton on the downhill to Ashland. After the Japanese marathoner split 5K in 15:01 under miserable conditions, the prevailing thinking was that the smarter, authentic competitors would let this early rabbit go and wait until deep into the second half of the race to begin the serious racing.
But Kawauchi had other ideas – and they were ideas he would later prove he could back up. As a 15-athlete lead pack developed, there were many rotating faces up front: Evans Chebet, Tamirat Tola, Lemi Berhanu, American hopeful Galen Rupp, and defending champion Geoffrey Kirui. While the pack members shifted and changed, one leading face remained the same: Yuki Kawauchi was always there. A 4:46 mile pushed the group through 10K in 30:15. A freezing, torrential cloud burst greeted the leaders at 15K passed in 44:44. After half marathon was passed in 1:05:59, the lead pack – still about 15 strong with Kawauchi still in the mix – hit the major downhill at 25K into Lower Newton Falls. Past 16 miles, as the pack began the climb up over Route 128, Kirui, up front, took one quick look around and then immediately upped the pace. It was a move that blew up the lead pack as the 2017 World Championship gold medalist pulled away. With a sizeable lead as he passed the Newton Fire Station, the defending champion, his white, blousy windbreaker whistling in the headwind, swung into the hills with a 20 second lead. After the first Newton hill, Kirui roared passed 30K in 1:34:58 to stretch his lead to 90 seconds. Cresting Heartbreak Hill, Kirui had an 87 second lead, was running clear, and looking strong with no one else in sight. Was the race over?
It wasn’t. The marathon is a cruel mistress and – and as Yogi used to say – it’s never over until it’s over. The first crack in Kirui’s veneer was his 23rd mile in 5:19. And when the defending champ covered his 24th mile in wobbly 5:31, it was clear the race for the laurel wreath was still in play. A rejuvenated Kawauchi – undaunted and running strong – spotted a struggling Kirui in the 25th mile, smelled blood in the water, and sped past the Kenyan as they passed Fenway Park. A dazed Kirui had no reply.
Yuki raced on to victory, crossing the line in 2:15:58 – the slowest winning time since Jack Fultz won Boston’s sun-baked “Run For The Hoses” in 1976. No matter. Under horrific conditions, the 122nd Boston Marathon was all about place, not time. While Kawauchi – the first Japanese Boston winner since Toshihiko Seko’s 2nd Boston win in 1987 – had to be assured at the finish that he was the, indeed, the victor, the teetering Kirui shuffled home in 2nd in 2:18:23. USA athlete Shadrack Biwott [3rd in 2:18:35 after finishing 4th here in 2017] was the first American finisher while strong races by Americans Tyler Pennel [4th in 2:18:57], Andrew Bumbalough [5th in 2:19:52], Scott Smith [6th in 2:21:47], Elkanah Kibet [8th in 2:23:37] and Daniel Vassallo [10th in 2:27:50] ensured the U.S. 6 finishers in the top 10. American hopeful Galen Rupp, AWOL after Kirui’s surge coming out of Lower Newton Falls, DNF’d.
Afterwards, the champion succinctly summed up his incredible finish, his dramatic pass, and his unexpected win. “I never gave up,” declared Kawauchi who has run over 70 marathons under 2:20. “I knew he was up there. I just ran him down.” When asked about the lift he received from the frenetic Boston crowd that exhorted him onward over the final miles, the Japanese winner was unequivocal. “It was an enormous help,” Kawauchi declared. “It’s the best crowd support I’ve ever had in the world. Thank you, Boston.” Pressed about how he was impacted by the deplorable weather conditions, the 2018 winner smiled and said, “For me, these are the best conditions possible.”
An hour or two later as throngs of runners poured over the finish line, the careful observer could note what for many was the race day capstone for the 122nd Boston Marathon: the performance by Amby Burfoot on this the 50th anniversary of his 1968 Patriots’ Day victory. After finishing in 4:53:22, the smiling 71-year-old past champion and marathon philosopher offered his view on the unique and enduring tradition of the Boston Marathon and the love affair runners cultivate with the race. “The love affair is not based on weather like today,” laughs one of the authentic legends of this race. “But April in New England is a variable condition. Obviously the love affair is the history of the race. It means so much to us all. The point when I ran here in the Olympic year [his win in 1968] when everybody else skipped it so they could be fresher for the Trials in the marathon, I had to come here and run Boston,” says Burfoot with sense of pride. “The Kelly tradition and running in his footsteps is very, very important to me. And once you run here and you’ve had some success and you’ve witnessed the incredible community support then of course you want to come back as much as you can and be a part of it because there is no other celebration in running like this.” That’s likely to be an insight with which Yuki Kawauchi – and the 27,000+ other runners who competed here today – would agree.
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