|The Boston Marathon 2006 - Women
by Sharon Ekstrom
The Women's field at the 110th Boston Marathon was expected to be a close race with a wide open field. Catherine Ndereba, the defending champion and four-time winner, had opted to run the Osaka Marathon and bypass the Boston Marathon. Elfenesh Alemu who was second in 2005 announced her withdrawal from the field due to an injury, as did Derartu Tulu. In any year, these three women would be among the favorites.
Remaining in the field were a number of Boston veterans: Jelena Prokopcuka (4th in 2004 with a 2:30:16) and Bruna Genovese (3rd in 2005 with a 2:29:51) Also in the field were two runners who had not before competed in the USA: Rita Jeptoo of Kenya and Reiko Tosa of Japan. With the absence of Ndereba and the others, these four were expected to be the favorites.
Tosa, with the fastest time coming into Boston (a 2:22:46 London Marathon in 2002 and a fifth place finish at the 2004 Olympics), ran to the front and set the pace from the beginning and led all of the runners through the first half of the marathon.
Running even splits, the pack was down to nine runners by the 10K (34:08) and 8 runners by mile 8 (43:53): consisted of Tosa, Prokopcuka, Jeptoo, Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia), Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania), Olivera Jevtic (Serbia-Montenegro), Bruna Genovese (Italy) and Kiyoko Shimihara (Japan) - all the time led by Tosa.
The pack, large for the Boston Marathon, remained steady, losing only Balciunaite through mile 17, when the race began to take shape.
Reaching the start of the Newton Hills, Bruna Genovese decided that the time had come to try to break some of her competition and started a surge which moved her to the front and dropped Biktimirova, Shimahara and Jevtic and the race was down to four: Genovese, Tosa, Prokopcuka and Jeptoo.
But as fate would have it, Genovese, who initiated the surge was the weakest of the remaining competition and the other three took Genovese's signal to counterattack and quickly lost the woman who was third in 2005.
Tosa, who had set the pace from the start, fell behind in the Newton Hills. She would later tell us in an interview that she wasn't aware of the difficulty and length of the hills - and perhaps she had underestimated them. But amazingly, Tosa regained some strength and caught back up to Jeptoo and Prokopcuka. The three ran strong together and would, in some order, make up the first three finishers of the Boston Marathon.
By Mile 23 (2:06:58) Tosa started to fall behind by a few seconds. She appeared visibly worn and it was obvious that she would be a casualty of this race - if you can call collecting a third place finish at Boston a casualty.
And then there were two… Prokopcuka came to Boston as a veteran of the race and arrived with victories in her two previous two marathons: New York (November 2005) and Osaka (January 2005) - she was strong and experienced. By contrast, Jeptoo arrived in Boston late on Friday night and had never seen the course let alone run a race in the USA. Her most recent marathon was a seventh place finish and her best times were slower than Prokopcuka's. It was obvious who would win this marathon - or was it?
At mile 24 (2:12:05), Jeptoo made the first surge and moved away from Prokopcuka. With raw speed, Jeptoo moved forward and quickly gained a ten second margin on Prokopcuka. But Prokopcuka was not about to lay down and acknowledge defeat - watching the race we could see the effort on Prokopcuka's part to catch her Kenyan competitor.
As hard as the two ran in the final miles, Jeptoo could not increase her lead on Prokopcuka nor could Prokopcuka catch the leader. The margin would not change and at the end Jeptoo's attack at mile 24 would prove to have been the decisive move in the marathon.
Jeptoo crossed the finish line at 2:23:38 with Prokopcuka close behind at 2:23:48 - the closest female finish in Boston Marathon history. These times were fast: the seventh and ninth fastest Boston Marathons ever. Tosa, after having led most of the race, came in 3rd place with a 2:24:11. Bruna Genovese finished fourth in a time of 2:25:28 - beating her previous personal best that she had set more than four years earlier.
The story for the 2006 Boston Marathon women's race was the absence of some veteran runners and particularly the absence of Kenyan women. But Jeptoo turned the story on its head, winning in her first foray onto American soil and running as the only Kenyan woman. Tosa, also a novice to Boston, ran a strong race and helped to ensure a fast and exciting race. Prokopcuka, as usual, gave a strong performance and at the end would not give up - but simply did not have enough to catch Jeptoo. As always, the Boston Marathon did not disappoint.