He was the forgotten champion, his triumph relegated to a footnote of tragedy. Now, like the Boston Marathon itself, Lelisa Desisa has reclaimed the glory that was taken from him.
It was only fitting that Desisa won the 2015 Boston Marathon on Monday, finishing in 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 17 seconds.
This was really the first normal Marathon since the bombings. Last year’s event was full of emotion, remembrance, poignancy, and ultimately patriotism with American Meb Keflezighi winning the men’s race.
We will never ever forget what happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon. We never should. But the race must go on. This year, the iconic world-class race, so much a part of the fabric of this city, was back to being about the runners and the race.
It was another sign of a city putting the heartbreak associated with the race back where it belongs, on that infamous incline in Newton on the course.
Desisa’s first Boston Marathon victory was in 2013. But no one will remember that race for the Ethiopian’s finishing kick in the final mile, allowing him to win by more than five seconds. He crossed the finish line approximately two hours and 39 minutes before the first bomb went off on Boylston Street
As a show of solidarity, Desisa returned his 2013 winner’s medal to the city of Boston at the Boston Athletic Association 10K, two months after the bombings. Desisa told reporters he wanted to give the medal back because he wanted people to know he felt the pain of the attack. It is now on display at the Boston Marathon RunBase store on Boylston Street.
Desisa will get to keep this medal and the memory of a Boston Marathon victory that he can celebrate without sorrow.
“This medal, I think, is for me,” said Desisa with a smile. “I’m happy and excited for my second victory.”
The only pain he feels is the pain of having completed 26.2 miles on an overcast, gray, teeth-chattering day.
After he won, Desisa, said, “Strong, Boston.” The syntax was a bit off, but the sentiment couldn’t have been more perfect from the perfect men’s champion for the 119th running of this race.
The Boston Marathon will always have a different element and deeper meaning to it because of what happened in 2013. Desisa’s victory came one day before the penalty phase of Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial begins.
But this year it was more of a race than a remembrance.
Celebrating the Marathon for the uplifting, world-class sporting event it is remains one of the best ways to honor the memories of those who lost their lives in the heinous attack, Martin Richard, Krystle Marie Campbell, and Lingzi Lu, the more than 260 people that were injured, and MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was assassinated during the aftermath.
Normalcy is the ultimate act of defiance. It sends a powerful message that Boston remains unbowed.
The good folks of the BAA were keenly aware that their 2015 champion was deprived of the spoils of victory two years ago.
BAA director of marketing and communications Jack Fleming brought the silver trophy on stage during the postrace press conference and set it between Desisa and Keflezighi.
“In 2013, Lelisa had won and we were sitting in these same chairs and then soon after . . .
“Unfortunately, Lelisa didn’t get to have the type of victory celebration that a champion of the Boston Marathon should have. So, I just want to sit this trophy up now . . . because Lelisa, we wanted you to get your due today after 2013.”
The race was difficult because of the wet and windy conditions, more conducive to curling up with a good book than running.
The headwind increased for the second half of the men’s elite race after the runners went out at a brisk pace.
You wouldn’t have known the conditions were adverse from watching Desisa run. He was Mona Lisa Desisa, artfully executing his plan.
Desisa seized the race on the flats coming through Brookline. He grabbed hold of it and wouldn’t let go.
He made his move with less than 5 miles left, at the 35-kilometer mark (roughly 21.75 miles).
By the 40-kilometer mark, he and countryman Yemane Adhane Tsegay had turned it into a two-man show.
There would be no fantastic finish, no desperate pursuit of the finish line, as in the women’s elite race, won by Caroline Rotich of Kenya.
Desisa pulled away and ended up besting second-place Tsegay by 31 seconds.
“I tried to push, but in the end it was impossible for me to catch up with Lelisa Desisa,” said Tsegay. “That is why he won.”
Desisa waved to spectators on his way to the finish line, turning Boylston Street into his victory lane.
“I started waving my hand because I love the people of Boston,” said Desisa.
Desisa was unable to finish the 2014 Boston Marathon. But he was eager to return.
When he arrived last Wednesday, he took fellow Ethiopians Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba, who finished second and third, respectively, in the women’s race, on a little running tour along the Charles River.
He wanted to show them Boston, according to Fleming.
Now, the BAA could show Desisa his first formal postrace awards ceremony. The event normally takes place at 5 p.m. It did not take place the last time Desisa won.
There has been a lot of debate and discussion about Boston’s ability — and civic appetite — to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
But every year the city hosts a world-class athletic event that resonates with talent from all over the world.
The majesty of the Marathon as a sporting competition remains something that we should never forget.
|Yemane Adhane Tsegay