Americans lining up for chance at Boston win
BOSTON -- When Ryan Hall needs a little something to get him through the rigors of marathon training, he turns to YouTube for old clips of Bill Rodgers slogging through the streets to one of his four Boston victories.
"I've drawn a lot of inspiration from him," Hall said this week as he prepared for the 113th running of the Boston Marathon. "Watching the videos ... it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. It's crazy thinking I'll be out there going through the same experience. I feel like I'm kind of walking in the history books a little bit."
Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya is going for his fifth Boston Marathon title -- it would be his fourth straight -- and Ethiopia's Dire Tune will try to repeat as women's champion when the field of more than 25,000 runners leaves Hopkinton on Monday for the 26.2-mile race to Boston's Copley Square.
Another win for Cheruiyot would be Kenya's 17th men's title in the last 19 years, and Ethiopia is second only to Kenya with four women's victories in 12 years. But there's another country in the discussion this year: the United States, which with Hall and Kara Goucher has contenders in both races for the first time in decades.
"Everyone knows the Kenyans and Ethiopians are so powerful in the sport," Rodgers said. "They're kind of like the Yankees and the Red Sox -- the focus that they have, the history that they have. It's going to be a great day if the Americans win because it's so hard to beat the Kenyans and the Ethiopians."
Rodgers, 61, will be back on the course this year for the first time in a decade, but with a goal of 4 hours he's no threat to win the race or even the over-60 division. That leaves Hall, who has the fastest time in the field, as the top American hope to end a streak almost as old as he is.
"I've never stepped on the starting line of a race I didn't think I could win," said Hall, 27, who finished 10th in the Olympics. "From the moment I can remember, I remember the Boston Marathon and the names that go with it like Bill Rodgers, Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar. It'd be a pretty special thing to have won, not only for myself but for the rest of the country to be excited about Boston again."
Rodgers won the race in 1975 and again three straight times from 1978-80, and Salazar outsprinted Beardsley to win the '82 race by 2 seconds. Greg Meyer won the next year and no U.S. man has won in Boston since; no woman has won here since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in '85.
From 1994-2001, there were no men in the top 10 at all. And it's not just Boston: American men won the first 13 New York Marathons -- including four straight for Rodgers followed by three in a row for Salazar -- but haven't taken first since '82. (The last woman to win New York was Kim Merritt in '75).
Every few years, the word goes out that the Americans are about to make a breakthrough. Top contenders like Deena Kastor and Marla Runyon or naturalized citizens like Meb Keflezighi and Khalid Khannouchi have threatened the Kenyans and Ethiopians but couldn't reach the podium.
New York City Marathon director Mary Wittenberg insists this is not the typical annual American finger-crossing. Hall's time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 17 seconds from London last year is the fastest personal best in the field; Goucher finished third in New York last year in 2:25:53 in her marathon debut, the fastest ever for an American woman.
"This is real," she said. "There's a lot at stake here, not just for the individuals but for the sport. It would absolutely be a rebirth, in part because of who the athletes are. Kara is the girl next door. If she wins this race, it plants the seed in a lot of young girls that they can be Kara Goucher -- because they can."
Goucher is being coached by Salazar on the intricacies of a challenging course she has only run in sections. Trying to win the race is difficult enough; doing it in her first try while carrying the hopes of her entire county can't make things easier.
"My coach won on his first try. So I think anything is possible," she said. "I do feel pressure, but most of it is self-imposed. I want to be in a position where I am nervous because people think I could win.
"How cool is that? People think I can win the Boston Marathon!"
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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