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Lemi Berhanu Hayle runs away with men’s race

Lemi Berhanu Hayle Wins the Boston Marathon
Lemi Berhanu Hayle Wins the Boston Marathon

What the clock said didn’t matter to him. Lemi Berhanu Hayle had gone 2 hours, 4 minutes, 33 seconds in the Dubai desert in January. That was a 26-mile time trial. This one was for a taste of immortality, $150,000, and quite possibly a ticket to the Olympics.

“When I come to these races it is only to win these races, not for running fast,” said the 21-year-old Berhanu (who goes by that name) after he ran away from two-time champion and Ethiopian countryman Lelisa Desisa on Monday afternoon to win the 120th Boston Marathon and become the youngest men’s victor since 19-year-old Shigeki Tanaka in 1951.

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Berhanu’s winning time of 2:12:45 was the slowest since Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot ran 2:14:13 into a wet 30-mile-an-hour gale in 2007 and the slowest in good weather since prize money was offered in 1986.

But what mattered more to Berhanu was his 47-second margin over Desisa, who’d been at his side through the Newton hills and into the Brookline flats before Berhanu busted him with a mile and a half to go.

“Even in the marathon, somebody can catch you,” Berhanu said. “I did not believe until at the finishing line I look Lelisa if he come.”

It was Ethiopia’s greatest day in Boston, with its first daily double (with Atsede Baysa coming back to win the women’s race), as well as its first men’s sweep as Yemane Adhane Tsegay placed third ahead of 2012 victor Wesley Korir.

That achievement, though, came with a five-ringed asterisk, since the Kenyans sent their second team here. Their top guys — Eliud Kipchoge, Dennis Kimetto, Wilson Kipsang, and Stanley Biwott — are running on Sunday in London, the final selection race for the Rio Games.

With the US Olympic team already chosen, the Americans weren’t going to send their aces here. Zachary Hine, the top domestic finisher, was 10th in 2:21:37.

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So when they took the line in Hopkinton, the Ethiopians knew that they were the class of the field, which gave them the luxury of turning the first half of the race into a holiday fun run and letting Japan’s Shingo Igarashi show them the way to Wellesley along undulating hardtop.

“Dubai is very flat,” said Berhanu, who was content to tuck himself into the large lead group and bounce along unhurried. “There is a pacemaker. Everything is very comfortable there. Boston is a marathon. A very challenging race.”

On a morning with a modest headwind when the temperature was pushing 70 degrees, nobody wanted to serve as unpaid pacemaker. Coming through the 10-mile mark in Natick Center, the split was 50:47, nearly four minutes off course-record pace.

After 12 miles, with the pack still numbering a dozen, Desisa grew bored of plodding through five-minute miles and decided to shake things up then rather than face a more difficult task later.

“After that I try to push,” said Desisa, who’d won here in 2013 and 2015. “I am testing Yemane and also Lemi, and I decide to go. I try to go, and I try to win.”

So he threw in a 4:33 mile coming down to Newton Lower Falls and shattered the pack, following that surge with a 4:46 past Woodland.

By the time Desisa made the firehouse turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, he and Berhanu were side by side and all by themselves. They stayed that way up and over Heartbreak Hill, through the “Haunted Mile” that follows, and around the bend into Cleveland Circle and the final 4 miles.

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Runners fight heat to cross finish line at 2016 Boston Marathon
Runners fight heat to cross finish line at 2016 Boston Marathon

Desisa had gone the distance twice before and found fulfillment. This time, though, he was up against a rival more than four years younger with decidedly less recent mileage on him. This was Desisa’s sixth marathon in 17 months, all but one of them majors.

When his left leg began giving him trouble and Berhanu went into passing gear after Coolidge Corner, Desisa couldn’t hang with him.

Even so, Berhanu, who’d won lesser titles in faster times in Zurich and Warsaw, was taking nothing for granted.

“I just kept running at the same pace as I did before,” he said. “Even when I saw Lelisa was behind, I did not believe my lead would last until I finally crossed the finish line.”

When he did, Berhanu celebrated with a leap that segued into a dance.

“That time I do not know what I do,” he said.

Maybe it was Berhanu’s version of a Brazilian samba, which will be useful if he’s picked for the Rio team.

With his Dubai time (where he was second to fellow citizen Tesfaye Abera after winning last year) and his victory here, Berhanu has a case. So does Desisa, who was third in New York last November after placing seventh at the August world championships. So does Tsegay, the global runner-up who was second here last year.

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“This question is only for the federation,” Berhanu observed. “I hope we have a chance to be selected. We will see what will happen after London.”

Whatever happens, Berhanu now has a gilded crown, a six-figure paycheck, and a résumé-topper.

“I won some races, but this is a major marathon,” he said. “I am feeling today like my best day.”

Lemi Berhanu Hayle of Ethiopia jumped for joy as he crossed the finish line.
Lemi Berhanu Hayle of Ethiopia jumped for joy as he crossed the finish line.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
Boston Marathon men's split times
Mile Leader Split
1 Shingo Igarashi 4:52
2 Shingo Igarashi 9:55
3 Shingo Igarashi 14:57
4 Shingo Igarashi 20:07
5 Cutbert Nyasango 25:19
6 Deribe Robi 30:18
7 Deribe Robi 35:13
8 Paul Lonyangata 40:15
9 Deribe Robi 45:26
10 Solonei Da Silva 50:47
11 Getu Feleke 55:55
12 Deribe Robi 1:00:57
13 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 1:06:11
14 Getu Feleke 1:11:22
15 Cutbert Nyasango 1:16:43
16 Lelisa Desisa 1:21:16
17 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 1:26:02
18 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 1:30:59
19 Lelisa Desisa 1:36:02
20 Lelisa Desisa 1:41:06
21 Lelisa Desisa 1:46:33
22 Lelisa Desisa 1:51:42
23 Lelisa Desisa 1:56:49
24 Lelisa Desisa 2:01:45
25 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 2:06:39
26.2 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 2:12:44
SOURCE: BAA