Rita Jeptoo eager to defend title

BOSTON -- At first, Rita Jeptoo didn't want to come back.

After the deadly attacks that marred the finish of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the Kenyan said she might not return to defend her title this year. It was too scary, she said, the psychological baggage of bombs going off just hours after she'd won her second Boston too heavy to shoulder.

But time is a great healer, and Jeptoo ultimately decided she would return and defend her title.

"For the last year, it's not good, but I was thinking this year is not the same as last year," she said Friday at the elite athletes news conference at the Fairmont Copley, when asked what changed her mind. "This year will be better than last year. And I hope we are going to run and [there will be] no problems again."

After the bombings killed three people and wounded more than 260 others near the finish line on Boylston Street, Jeptoo had understandable concerns about security, and she didn't keep them to herself. But she said that wasn't meant as an indictment of the job public safety officials did last year.

"Yeah, sure, I asked [about security]," Jeptoo said. "But ... in my mind I know there [was] security. I don't want to say there is no security. But something happened [anyway]."

Although no less affected emotionally, the men's champion, Lelisa Desisa, had no reservations about coming back to Boston. He returned to the city just over than a month later to participate in the Boston Athletic Association's 10K in June, and in a postrace ceremony he donated his winner's medal to the city.

"There are two sides of the story," Desisa said through a translator. "I was very happy that I won, but at the same time because of what has happened I was very saddened. And to honor the Boston community, I had to come in June and give my medal so that the victims would have a good remembrance of my winning the Boston Marathon last year."

Asked why he felt the gesture was important, the Ethiopian said in English, "I come back to Boston, Boston is strong. I say [I did it] for Boston to be strong."

Both champions will be in the field for Monday's 118th running, and despite strong fields, both are expected to contend.

"I knew that there are good competitors this year, and that's why I took my time and I [have] done very good training," Desisa said through a translator. "Even though there are very well-known, competitive athletes ... I'm ready to win this marathon."

Jeptoo was asked Friday what message she hopes to send by returning to Boston after everything that happened last year, including her public unease.

"The message [is that] I was happy to come to visit again Boston and run again," she said. "To defend my title. And we'll see."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey