(WINSLOW TOWNSON ~ Associated Press)
BOSTON -- American Kara Goucher ripped off the gloves she wore for the first 25 miles and threw them to the pavement.
The sprint was on.
Kenya's Salina Kosgei outkicked Goucher and defending champion Dire Tune in the last mile of the Boston Marathon on Monday, going back and forth with Tune in the final blocks of Boylston Street to win the closest women's finish in event history.
Ethiopia's Deriba Merga won the men's race, with Ryan Hall picking up another third place for the Americans -- their best showing in more than 20 years.
(Elise Amendola ~ Associated Press)
"The bar's continuing to get raised, and I think it's time for Americans to step up and meet the challenge. It's just going to keep getting better and better and faster and faster. ... I know I have a lot to learn. But it's exciting."
Hall took the early lead with a blistering pace and was shoulder-to-shoulder with the leaders until they passed from Wellesley into Newton with about 10 miles to go. Merga had pulled away by the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, winning in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 42 seconds -- 50 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Daniel Rono of Kenya, with Hall another 8 seconds back.
Merga led much of the Olympic marathon last summer before he wilted in the Beijing heat and was passed in the last quarter-mile, finishing fourth.
His victory Monday gave Ethiopia its second in five years; Kenya had won in 16 of the past 18 years, and will have to be satisfied with a women's title -- its seventh since the turn of the century.
"Boston is one of the biggest marathons in the world," Merga said. "Because of that, our people are very happy."
Goucher led the three women as they crossed above the MassPike into Kenmore Square with 1 mile to go, but the two Africans began to pull away from her as they dueled. One year after Tune outkicked Alevtina Biktimirova to win by 2 seconds in what was then the closest women's finish ever, the Ethiopian traded places with Kosgei several times on the last long stretch to the tape.
"I was a sprinter before," Kosgei said. "So I know about the sprinting."
The only closer finish in the 113-year history of the event was the men's race in 2000, when Elijah Lagat beat Gezahegne Abera with an identical time of 2:09:47.