Close call in women's race

Kosgei edges Tune by a single second

Dire Tune was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for observation after collapsing at the finish line. Dire Tune was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for observation after collapsing at the finish line. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 21, 2009
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An hour before the elite women took off from the starting line in Hopkinton for yesterday's 113th running of the Boston Marathon, a young man stood on the corner of Berkeley and Boylston streets in Boston, handing out posters that read, "Kara, Bring Boston Home!"

Race fans were enthusiastically accepting them, hopeful that Kara Goucher would become the first American woman to win this esteemed event since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985.

For 25 miles, it appeared that Goucher - running just her second marathon - would deliver, but Salina Kosgei of Kenya and Dire Tune (the 2008 Boston champion from Ethiopia) had their own goals. Kosgei and Tune pulled away from Goucher and battled each other over the final few hundred meters, with Kosgei edging Tune by one second in 2 hours 32 minutes 16 seconds.

It was the closest finish in the history of the women's race, bettering last year, when Tune beat Russian Alevtina Biktimirova by two seconds.

Goucher finished third in 2:32:25.

As Kosgei raised her arms in triumph, Tune collapsed just over the finish line and required medical attention. According to race officials, she was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for observation and was expected to be fine. Goucher was met by her husband, Adam, who embraced her as she dissolved into tears of disappointment and frustration.

The runners were challenged by a strong headwind, which resulted in the winning time being the slowest since Larsen-Weidenbach's 2:34:06.

For the 32-year-old Kosgei, running Boston for the first time, it was her first marathon since finishing 10th at the Beijing Olympics last August.

"The beginning of the race was slow," she said. "The middle of the race was faster. We were against the wind and it wasn't easy for us to run that fast.

"About the finish, it was funny. It wasn't easy for me. I tried to push and [Tune] was trying to push also, so we push all the way. We tried to push together and I finished [first]."

With about 5 miles to go, Goucher began pushing the pace and tried to break free of the pack by taking the lead. A lead pack of seven women was reduced to five and later three. But Kosgei and Tune had more kick in the final sprint than Goucher.

"My initial plan was to wait until the very end and kick," said Goucher, 30, who trains in Oregon. "But I looked around with about 5 miles to go and I just felt like there were too many people there. I just felt like it was too risky, there were too many people, there were going to be seven sprinting [to the finish line] and that I needed to break it up into the people that should be there.

"I just felt great. I just started to press, and the whole time, I felt like I had another gear. I don't know. They had more."

All the top women were well aware of the slow pace. Goucher said she decided to just go along with it for a while and see what happened. At about 21 miles, that's when she decided something had to change.

"I just let it go," she said. "It was a little bit slower than I would've liked. But I just thought, 'It doesn't matter. The clock doesn't matter. What matters is who crosses the line first.'

"I just stayed relaxed. I knew that at some point, someone was going to flip the switch and I didn't think it was going to be me. I'm not a person who needs to lead. I'm very comfortable in just responding to what's around me."

Although the strategy seemed sound at the time, she said she would be pondering it.

"I think I will think about that for a while," said Goucher. "But I think it was the right move to do because I think there were just too many people and anything can happen when you leave it up to a kick like that.

"I'm proud of how I did and I raced the best that I could, but I wanted to be the one who won for everybody."

Goucher, who finished ninth in the 5,000 meters and 10th in the 10,000 meters in Beijing, said in the May 2009 edition of Runner's World that her goal after Boston is to get pregnant. If it doesn't happen right away, she said, the experience of New York last fall - where she also finished third with the fastest American woman's debut time ever in 2:25:53 - and Boston has inspired her to return.

"I'll absolutely be back in New York and in Boston," she said, "as soon as I possibly can."

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at