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Amy Cragg ends U.S. women's marathon drought with thrilling bronze

Amy Cragg became the first U.S. woman since 1983 to win a marathon medal at the World Championships, narrowly missing out on silver in London. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

LONDON -- To run with the women's marathon leaders for 26.2 miles and only believe in the final 600 meters that a World Championships medal is within reach must feel like mental torture.

But such an experience, along with the inevitable physical pain of racing that distance, made it all the more worthwhile for Amy Cragg as she made American history at the event.

The 33-year-old became the first U.S. woman marathoner since Marianne Dickerson's silver in 1983 to win a medal at the World Championships, claiming bronze in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 18 seconds in a sprint finish.

Indeed, Mark Plaatjes' gold in Stuttgart in 1993 was the last medal -- in either the men's or women's race -- for the U.S. in the marathon at the World Championships.

Cragg was just seven seconds behind Bahraini winner Rose Chelimo and was so close to Kenyan great Edna Kiplagat for silver that they were given the same time before fractions of a second were accounted for.

"It was really painful, but it was worth every little bit of pain," said Cragg, who decided with a mile of the last lap remaining that it was make or break.

"It was pretty late in the game when I knew I had a medal ... that [a mile to go] was the point where I was either going to go for it or give in, because it was really painful. I decided to go for it and probably 600 meters to go, I knew [I'd got a medal] and started focusing on the next person.

"Coming into this I knew I was in better shape than I had been in my entire life by a lot and had worked harder than ever before. We thought there was potential to medal, but it's the world marathon championships -- I could have a great day and finish eighth.

"[But] when the race is that slow, I've become really confident in closing my last five kilometers and 10 kilometers, so I started getting more and more excited. I would swing between 'I can do this' and 'what am I thinking, it's so hard'."

Cragg said her race felt like a grind to the finish as it wore on, but Britain's 38-year-old Alyson Dixon experienced very different emotions.

She had built up a 32-second gap by halfway and led until the 18th mile, even staying in contention up to the two-hour mark.

But Dixon slipped down the field then and finished 18th in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 36 seconds, but ran with as close as you can get to a smile on her face in an endurance event of this distance.

"I'm lost for words; it was amazing," she said, after engaging with the big, enthusiastic crowd around the four laps of the 10-kilometer course in central London.

"I knew I was in fantastic shape, training has gone so well, it was a quick turnaround from the London marathon [in April], but the last seven weeks I've spent at altitude and sessions have gone beyond belief. It all paid off out there. I never in my wildest dreams expected to be leading.

"If you can't enjoy running a World Championship in London with that support, what are you in the sport for? It was giving you that boost every time. Even in that last lap coming round, I was hanging on for dear life, and I was still like 'Come on, cheer, just take my mind off this'.

"I've done all this hard work, you've got to enjoy it. If I could do it again tomorrow I wouldn't change a thing. I ran at Rio last year and thought you'd never get better than an Olympic Games, but this just totally blew it out the water."