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The Boston Marathon 2008 - Women
by John Elliott/Sharon Ekstrom/Charlie Davidson
The Women's Race
While the men's race was a decisive race under the control of a calculating champion, the women's race had no discernible favorite though both the champion and runner-up from 2007 were present. Prior to the 2007 Boston marathon Jelena Prokopcuka and Lidiya Grigoryeva had competed against one another three times, with the Latvian, Prokopcuka, finishing ahead of Grigoryeva all three times, including consecutive wins at the 2005 and 2006 New York Marathons. However, at the 2007 Boston Marathon, Grigoryeva took advantage of a perceived fatigue in Procupcuka late in the race, and claimed the victory by a handy 40 seconds.
After the wet and windy race of 2007, the 2008 Boston marathon kicked off with a calm, 50-degree day as Olympic champion Joan Samuelson fired the gun to start the race for the nearly 50 elite women who would be starting ahead of the rest of the field. As the elite women took off downhill at Mile 1, it seemed that 2006 and 2007 runner-up Prokopcuka would once again lead the way. Prokopcuka, not eager to three-peat a second place finish, set a quick pace but refrained from making overly aggressive moves so as not to stoke the rest of the runners in the pack.
Through a 5:23 first mile, Prokopcuka was leading but the pack, aware of her dominant performance in 2006, held onto her. At this point the pack consisted of Magdaline Chemjor, Rita Jeptoo, Bruna Genovese, Robe Tola Guta, Alevtina Biktimirova, Nuta Olaru, defending champion Grigoryeva, the young and always dangerous Dire Tune, and Askale Tafa Magarsa slotted into the middle.
As the women reached the first water station, Prokopcuka tucked into the pack and allowed Chemjor, along with Genovese, to pace. Through mile 7, the pace was calm as the leaders changed, this time to Olaru. The miles passed and the lead changed hands yet again, from Olaru, to Magarsa, and back and forth between the past champion Jeptoo and Chemjor. As the women ran side-by-side in a broad group, foregoing any drafting tactics, it was clear that the wind would not be a factor as it had in 2007.
By mile 10, the women were three full minutes off of course record pace and it seemed that most of them were eager to pick up the pace. Finally, after over an hour since the start of the race, the defending champion Grigoryeva decided to increase the pace, front-running for a brief time only to be caught by the quickening pack. It didn't take long for Prokopcuka to once again take the lead after hitting mile 12 in 1:08:15. The pack reeled her in again and it seemed each runner was biding her time and saving her energy for the hilly stages later in the race.
At least half a dozen different women had held the lead by the time they reached the halfway point at 1:14:45. Prokopcuka struck again and, by mile 16, the pack was down to Prokopcuka, Biktimirova, Tune, Jeptoo, and Magarsa. It was not long after her fantastic push and 4:46 pace at mile 18 that Prokopcuka faded and started to drop back, soon followed by Olaru, Magarsa, and Prokopcuka's prime pursuer, Grigoryeva. As mile 19 passed under foot, Jeptoo had fallen behind, leaving Biktimirova and a dogged Tune. Both runners seemed confident and strong as they headed toward the hills.
Tune hit mile 21 in 1:58:09 and seemed to be taking control of the race. However, not to be dismissed, Biktimirova charged up on Tune to maintain the competition in the final 5K. At the 24-mile marker, the two athletes were hip-to-hip and it seemed neither would give an inch. The closest women's finish in Boston history to date was by a mere 10 seconds in 2006 and, as Tune and Biktimirova vied for breathing room into the homestretch, it was clear that this race could come down to the wire.
As the women vied for the lead in the final kilometer, the press truck pulled aside to let the women make a right-hand turn as they entered the last stretches of the race. Tune, just ahead of Biktimirova, faltered for a split second, almost following the truck. Likewise, Biktimirova seemed to slow. Tune quickly recovered, making a hard right turn and rediscovering the speed that had carried her thus far.
Both women were kicking and just as it seemed Tune would pull away, Biktimirova caught up to her and stuck to her side, matching her step for step and even gaining a stride on the Ethiopian. The roar of the crowd, awed by the unrelenting duo, spurred the two runners on as the finish was in sight. Finally, with mere meters to go, Tune found a reserve of strength to stride ahead of the Russian for the win. Tune's time was 2:25:25, followed by Biktimirova's 2:25:27, giving Tune the title by two seconds and making Boston marathon history. As she crossed the finish line, Dire Tune fell to her knees in what must have been a mixture of exhaustion, relief, and gratitude.
Dire Tune 2:25:25
Alevtina Biktimirova 2:25:27
Rita Jeptoo 2:26:34
Jelena Prokopcuka 2:28:12
Askale Tafa Magarsa 2:29:48
Bruna Genovese 2:30:52
Nuta Olaru 2:33:56
Robe Tola Guta 2:34:37
Lidiya Grogoryeva 2:35:37
Stephanie A. Hood 2:44:44