BOSTON - On a picture perfect day for racing, Ethiopians Mamitu Daska and Lelisa Desisa were crowned champions at the 14th B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. Daska established a new event record of 1:08:20, while Desisa earned his second consecutive B.A.A. Half Marathon victory in 1:01:38, covering the rolling, spectacular course through Bostonís Emerald Necklace park system in style.
The B.A.A. Half Marathon is the third and final event of the 2014 B.A.A. Distance Medley, a three-race series which combines the B.A.A. 5K on April 19, the B.A.A. 10K on June 22, and today's B.A.A. Half Marathon. More than 2000 of the half marathon's entrants were participants in all three races in 2014.
Smiling from ear to ear, the 30-year-old Daska had a race to remember. Through the opening miles, Daska found herself among a lead pack of five that included Kenyans Betsy Saina and Cynthia Limo, as well as American Molly Huddle. Together, they passed five miles in 25:48.
Taking the lead in the ninth mile, Daska began to increase her pace and take control. At April's B.A.A. 5K, Daska finished second to Huddle by a mere two seconds. Returning to the city for the B.A.A. 10K on June 22, Daska was first across the line in a course record of 31:04. Entering today's B.A.A. Half Marathon, Daska was determined to continue her winning ways and break the tape first.
Through Franklin Park, Daska ran with confidence and gusto. With just over a mile to go, Daska passed through the Franklin Park Zoo and knew it was her time to shine: subsequently, she made her bid for victory and gapped the final challenger, Limo.
While Huddle and Saina had dropped back in the ninth and tenth mile, respectively, Limo held tough up front to give Daska some company. In the final kilometer, a sudden surge by Daska proved to be too much to handle.
Daska extended her lead entering White Stadium, with only 200 meters remaining. It was then that she recognized the course record could be hers.
"I never before was thinking course record because the weather was cold. I win and the new course record, I am happy," said Daska, speaking through a translator. "Close to the stadium, I am looking to the time, 1:08, and I hoped to set a course record."
Sprinting down the homestretch and using the spectator's applause to her advantage, Daska broke the finish tape in 1:08:20, establishing an event record by 54 seconds. The previous record of 1:09:14 belonged to New Zealand Olympian Kim Smith, set in 2013.
Daska's victory earned her a total of $40,000 USD. In addition to her $10,000 USD first place prize, Daska picked up a $10,000 USD course record bonus and a $20,000 B.A.A. bonus for winning both the B.A.A. 10K and B.A.A. Half Marathon. Following her race, Daska pledged a $5,000 donation to The One Fund Boston in honor of those impacted by the tragic events at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
"It is special because [I have earned B.A.A.] 10K and Half Marathon wins, so I am happy, and I hope I win the marathon next time," Daska said. "In Ethiopia, Boston Marathon is biggest in the world in [the] marathon, so everybody wants to win it."
Taking second in a personal best of 1:08:24 was Limo, while Huddle --a 2012 Olympian for the United States-- placed third in 1:09:23. Rounding out the top five were Kenyans Saina (1:09:27) and Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton (1:10:38). This was Saina's first ever half marathon.
Huddle, who lives in Providence, R.I., said that the supportive cheers from the crowd and fellow runners helped her through the tough miles.
"I heard a ton of people yelling my name which was awesome," Huddle said, noting that sometime in 2015 or 2016 she'd like to try the marathon distance. "It helped a lot."
Mimi Fallon, 49 of Walpole, Mass., was the top masters finisher, placing 15th in 1:24:58. Fallon is a member of the Boston Athletic Association.
LELISA DESISA DEFENDS B.A.A. HALF MARATHON TITLE
Lelisa Desisa ruled the roads of Boston in 2013, winning both the Boston Marathon and B.A.A. Half Marathon. Twelve months ago, the 24-year-old established a course record of 1:00:34 for the half marathon, cruising to victory over Kenyans Daniel Salel and Stephen Sambu.
Desisa, Salel, and Sambu all returned to Boston for today's race, battling for the coveted title of B.A.A. Half Marathon champion.
Racing through five miles in 23:49, all three were tightly bunched together, racing as one through the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. It was evident that the trio was familiar with the rolling course, savvy racers ready to make their move at an instant's notice. Joining them up front were Leonard Korir (KEN), Tesfalem Gebrearegawi (ETH), Raji Assefa (ETH), and Cleophas Ngetich (KEN).
Salel and Sambu, second and third here a year ago, led the group through ten miles in 47:16. Biding his time and sitting back was Desisa, awaiting the right moment to surge. In 2013, Desisa's winning move came at 12 miles. This year, it would be at the eleven mile mark.
Speeding up at such a blistering pace, Desisa caught the field --and the course officials biking alongside-- by surprise. By the time he exited Franklin Park Zoo and made the charge toward White Stadium, Desisa was confident the win was his.
Breaking the finish tape in 1:01:38, Desisa celebrated with a wave to the crowd. Although it was not a course record, Desisa was very pleased to become the first two-time men's champion in race history.
"I am happy. I test myself for New York City Marathon, and I felt good. I finish half marathon number one. When I compare myself, the feeling is good," said Desisa, a medal draped around his neck. "
Desisa is preparing for November's New York City Marathon, and said he gained confidence from today's performance. The win was extra special considering Desisa had to take time off from training following April's Boston Marathon, which he was unable to finish due to an ankle injury.
"Now I am happy I win because I prepared myself," he said. "I did more endurance training to prepare for this."
Finishing second to Desisa was Kenya's Salel in a time of 1:01:48. Korir (KEN) held on for third in 1:01:51, while Sambu (KEN) placed fourth in 1:02:00.
Sambu, champion of this year's B.A.A. 10K, took home the B.A.A. Distance Medley series title for the second consecutive year. His cumulative time for the B.A.A. 5K (13:27), B.A.A. 10K (27:25), and B.A.A. Half Marathon (1:02:00) was 1:42:52.
"I am very happy to win for the second time in a row," said Sambu. "Going in, I knew I had a good chance of winning, and I knew I was ahead of Salel by 24 seconds at one point. I am very, very happy."
Salel wound up second in the standings, totaling a time of 1:43:00.
The top American finisher was Dartmouth College graduate Ethan Shaw, a member of the Boston Athletic Association. Shaw placed eighth in 1:05:10.
Joseph Ekuom of Kingston, New York, won the men's masters competition for the third consecutive year. His time was 1:12:55, five seconds ahead of the Boston Athletic Association's Chris Magill.
In the push rim wheelchair division, New Jersey's Tony Nogueira won for the ninth time since 2003, finishing in 57:03. Nogueira has now won four consecutive B.A.A. Half Marathon titles. Acton, Mass., native Katrina Gerhard, 17, was the women's wheelchair champion in 1:28:09.
Also in the field were over 600 runners representing Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, raising funds to improve patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber. The B.A.A. Half Marathon has been presented annually by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund since 2003. Dana-Farber runners have raised more than $4 million USD through this event over the past 12 years.
A total of 6,211 finishers completed the 14th B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. In addition, there were nine wheelchair finishers.