Neil Gottlieb had just crossed the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon in 3 hours 42 minutes 47 seconds and was filing through a chute to get some water and snacks when a pair of explosions near the finish line on Boylston Street “almost lifted us all off our feet,’’ he said.
“There was one very large explosion probably maybe 100 yards from where I was standing,’’ said Gottlieb, a 44-year-old from Philadelphia. “There was no mystery as to what had just happened. Then, maybe, within two seconds later there was another explosion, it didn’t seem quite as big, but there was clearly a mushroom-type cloud.
“There was no question that some sort of bomb or something went off there.’’
Gottlieb said security immediately began to clear the finish area. “We just all turned and started heading back, away from the finish line,’’ he said.
Gottlieb’s wife, Kim, and their three children were about to walk into the Copley Plaza Hotel, where they were staying, when the explosions happened. Gottlieb’s wife and children were hustled to safety inside the hotel, which security placed on immediate lockdown, but Neil was still unaccounted for outside.
The family was tearfully reunited in the hotel lobby a short while later.
Gottlieb was at a loss to describe what kind of explosion it was.
“I don’t know what it was,’’ he said. “Part of me hopes that it was some sort of malfunction of equipment that was there, but it didn’t seem that way. It’s a scary event.’’
Gottlieb had just completed his second Boston Marathon.
“It’s a dream for a lot of people [to run Boston] and to have it end that way would be a tragedy,” he said. “Actually, for those of us standing here in the hotel, it’s a disappointing end to a spectacular day. It was seven months of training that led up to this, but that’s irrelevant.’’
Samuelson met her goal
Joan Benoit Samuelson intended to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her world-record time of 2:22:43 by finishing within 30 minutes of her winning time in 1983. Samuelson, 55, met that objective by running 2:50:29, the fastest by a woman in the 50-59 age group.
“I felt good, I felt strong,’’ Samuelson said. “I went a little bit out on a limb with that [goal] projection. I don’t know what the pace-per-mile relates to, but my fastest training mile was a 7:08 pace, so I think I was well below that.”
“It’s nice to know that I can come back 30 years later and run in the wake of these fine women,’’ Samuelson added, flanked on the dais by winner Rita Jeptoo (2:26:25) and top American finishers Shalane Flanagan (2:07:08, fourth) and Kara Goucher (2:28:11, sixth).
“No matter what our age, I think we inspire each other in the sport,’’ Samuelson said.
Speaking of Flanagan and Goucher, Samuelson said “They have each other as friends and as training partners, and I think they can take our sport in this country to the next level and can compete with the best in the world.
“I know Shalane had a lot of pressure on her shoulders coming home to Boston and I think she handled the pressure extremely well and ran a very competitive race. And I know she will be back and Kara is going to be right with her.’’
Hartmann fourth again
Jason Hartmann, 32, of Boulder, Colo., had the best finish by an American, a fourth-place effort in 2:12:12.
Hartmann went out early in a lead group despite developing a blister on his left foot that nagged him from Mile 6 to the finish. He also finished fourth last year.
“Yeah, it was painful and stuff, but it really started hurting once I crossed the line,’’ said Hartmann. “But you’re just kind of running on adrenaline. I’m sure all these athletes can agree with me on this; the crowd support was great.
“You don’t want to quit when there’s so many people around you. That kind of allowed me to [say], `You know what? I don’t care about my foot.’ I came here to compete and I just tried to block out the pain as much as I could.’’
Hartmann said it was his approach to go out early with the lead pack, which was caught around the 10K mark.
“We got back to the lead pack, but about 19-20 miles that’s when the Kenyans and the Ethiopians opened it up,’’ Hartmann said. “I just had to assess the situation and see if I could handle that pace or should I just stay within myself and allow myself the opportunity to race the last 5 miles.
“I think in Boston the last 5 miles is where you determine whether you run good or not. If you do the first 20 miles under control and relaxed, it allows you the energy to compete, that’s something I’ve prided myself on and it’s led me to some success that last 2-3 years.’’
Controlled start an issue
Wheelchair competitors Hiroyuki Yamamoto, 46, of Japan, and Tatyana McFadden, 23, of Clarksville, Md., had never taken part in the Boston Marathon before. But they were welcomed across the finish line as winners.
Yamamoto took advantage of a botched controlled start to surge to a lead he would never relinquish, finishing in 1:25:32. Ernst Van Dyk, a nine-time Boston champion from South Africa, was runner-up while Kota Hokinoue of Japan, Yamamoto’s training partner, finished third in Boston for the third time.
“It’s a hill race, so I knew that I could tuck at some points, but I knew that I had to keep the lead,’’ Yamamoto said. “So I kept on pushing forward. Then towards the end, my wrist started cramping up, but I knew I had to push through to keep the lead.”
Van Dyk was caught up in a chaotic start when the lead vehicle stopped when several racers broke from the grid during the controlled start.
“Some guys, maybe they didn’t understand what was going on and were shooting from the outside and trying to pass the lead car,’’ Van Dyk said. “Guys were yelling and suddenly the lead vehicle stopped. Like, it stopped dead on the course and we can’t stop there. Then it let us go. The guys in front got away clean, but the guys in the second and third row, we were in a mess.’’
Van Dyk sharply criticized the controlled start, saying, “I think it’s time to think about safety and not tradition.’’
McFadden also was stymied by the controlled start of the women’s field, dropping to the back before she recovered and caught the lead pack after 12 miles. McFadden went on to win in 1:45:24, finishing ahead of runner-up Sandra Graf of Switzerland (1:46:54). McFadden’s training partner, Amanda McGrory of Champaign, Ill., came in third (1:49:19) despite getting knocked out of her chair by a crash.
“I just played to my strengths and focused,’’ McFadden said. “I focused on the roads, focused on the hills, and the downhills and really tried to play to my strengths and know my weaknesses of the race. And the crowd was amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better crowd today, especially at Heartbreak Hill.’’
The lead local
Timothy Ritchie, 25, of Brighton was the top New Englander in the field, finishing 23d in 2:21:31 . . . At 8:52 a.m., the Marathon observed a 26-second silence in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, minutes before the first racers left the start line in Hopkinton. The marker at Mile 26 had a Newtown, Conn., logo on it, again as a remembrance of the 26 who lost their lives.
Globe correspondent Barbara Matson contributed to this report. Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.