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Associated Press photos
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya sits wrapped in a towel after winning the women’s division.

Ethiopia battles Kenya in Boston

East African neighbors split victories in marathon

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia pulls away from Gebregziabher Gebremariam, rear left, and Micah Kogo, of Kenya, during the final block.

– The Kenyans finally face a challenge to their dominance of the Boston Marathon, and it’s from their East African neighbors.

Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa took the title in the 117th edition of the world’s oldest marathon on Monday, winning a three-way sprint down Boylston Street to finish in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds and snap a string of three consecutive Kenyan victories.

“Here we have a relative newcomer,” said Ethiopia’s Gebregziabher Gebremariam, who finished third. “Everything changes.”

In just his second race at the 26.2-mile distance, Desisa finished 5 seconds ahead of Kenya’s Micah Kogo to earn $150,000 and the traditional olive wreath. American Jason Hartmann finished fourth for the second year in a row.

“It was more of a tactical race, the Ethiopian versus the Kenyans. That fight played out very well,” defending champion Wesley Korir, a Kenyan citizen and U.S. resident, said after finishing fifth.

“The Ethiopians run very good tactical races. One thing I always say is, ‘Whenever you see more than five Ethiopians in a race, you ought to be very careful.’ As Kenyans, we ought to go back to the drawing board and see if we can get our teamwork back.”

Rita Jeptoo averted the Keynan shutout by winning the women’s race for the second time. Jeptoo, who also won in 2006, finished in 2:26:25 for her first victory in a major race since taking two years off after having a baby.

After a series of close finishes in the women’s race – five consecutive years with 3 seconds or less separating the top two – Jeptoo had a relatively comfortable 33-second margin over Meseret Hailu of Ethiopia. Defending champion Sharon Cherop of Kenya was another 3 seconds back.

Shalane Flanagan, of nearby Marblehead, was fourth in the women’s division in her attempt to earn the first American victory in Boston since 1985. (Two-time winner Joan Benoit Samuelson, running on the 30th anniversary of her 1983 victory, finished in 2:50:29 to set a world record for her age group.)

“The hardest part about Boston is the Bostonians want it just as bad as we do, which really tugs at our heart,” said Flanagan, a three-time Olympian. “We all want it too. We want to be the next Joanie.”

Kara Goucher, of Portland, Ore., was sixth for her third top 10 finish in Boston as many tries. The last American woman to win here was Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in ’85; Greg Meyer was the last U.S. man to win, in 1983. “There’s just more pure numbers of African runners,” said Goucher, who noted that the field of five American women with personal bests under 2:30 was the strongest in years.

Alissa McKaig, a former Concordia and Indiana Tech runner, finished in 2:45:02 to place 27th among the women.

A year after heat approaching 90 degrees sent record numbers of participants in search of medical help, temperatures in the high 40s greeted the field of 24,662 at the start in Hopkinton. It climbed to 54 degrees by the time the winners reached Copley Square in Boston.

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