BOSTON -- Reigning Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir capped the celebration of a half-century of women in the Boston Marathon with a finish to top them all.
The 28-year-old Kenyan runner won a seesaw sprint in the final mile Monday as the world's most prestigious 26.2-mile race returned to its traditional Patriots' Day spot in the schedule for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the 50th anniversary of the first official women's race, Jepchirchir traded places with Ethiopia's Ababel Yeshaneh eight times in the final mile before pulling ahead for good on Boylston Street and finishing in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 1 seconds.
"I was feeling she was strong. I pushed it," said Jepchirchir, who earned $150,000 and the traditional gilded olive wreath. "I fell behind. But I didn't lose hope."
Evans Chebet completed the Kenyan sweep, breaking free in the men's race with about 4 miles to go to win in 2:06:51. Gabriel Geay of Tanzania was second, 30 seconds back, and defending champion Benson Kipruto was third.
Sharing a weekend with the Red Sox home opener -- the city's other sporting rite of spring -- more than 28,000 runners returned to the streets from Hopkinton to Copley Square six months after a smaller and socially distanced event that was the only fall race in its 126-year history.
Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh spent most of the morning running shoulder to shoulder -- or even closer: In the first half, the Ethiopian's eyes wandered from the course and she drifted into Jepchirchir.
She reached out to apologize, and the two clasped each other's arms as they continued on.
"She's my best friend," Jepchirchir said.
Yeshaneh finished four seconds back. Kenya's Mary Ngugi finished third for the second time in six months, following her podium in October after the 125th race was delayed, canceled and delayed again.
This year's race marked the 50th anniversary of Nina Kuscsik's victory as the inaugural official women's winner. (But not the first woman to finish the race: That honor belongs to Bobbi Gibb, who first ran in 1966 among the unofficial runners known as bandits.)
Valerie Rogosheske, who finished sixth in 1972, said she had been planning to hide in the bushes and run as a bandit that year before women got the go-ahead a few weeks before the race.
She was among five of the original eight women to return this year for the festivities, running alongside her daughters, and serving as the honorary starter for the women's elite field.
"There was just this feeling of, 'Boy, we're going to do this. No one can drop out. There are eyes upon us,'" she said at the starting line on Monday. "Many people didn't think we should be running a marathon. So that's why we really felt that pressure, but opportunity as well, to finish this marathon."