BOSTON – Shalane Flanagan grew up in nearby Marblehead, Mass., with a reverence for the Boston Marathon and dreamed, like many locals and foreign runners alike, that she would win the race someday.
Her goal has changed now.
But only a little.
“If I could have one wish, it would be to win this specific race on this specific day,” she said last week. “It basically would be the highlight of my career, for sure. If I could win this specific Boston: It has the most power, the most meaning behind it, of all the Boston Marathons that would be run.”
A year after two bombs at the finish line killed three and wounded 264 others, the 118th edition of the Boston Marathon has become a symbol of resilience for the running community, the city and a nation shocked by an attack on one of its beloved traditions. Flanagan, a three-time Olympian who finished fourth in her Boston debut last year, is hoping an American victory in her hometown race will help heal the wounds caused by last year’s bombings.
“I think something magical can happen for us,” she said. “It means so much to me, so much to my community and my family. I almost have to pretend that it’s just another race, when deep down I know it isn’t.”
No American runner has won the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach took the women’s title in 1985, two years after Greg Meyer’s victory that is the last American win in the men’s division.
Since then, the top U.S. contender has trekked to Hopkinton each year hoping that an end to the slump will trigger a resurgence in American distance running.
But a year after the bombing on Boylston Street provoked a national outpouring of sympathy for Boston and its signature sporting event, Americans are staking even more on a victory in 2014.
“There are so many more eyes on the race this year,” said Desiree Linden, who finished second by 2 seconds in 2011 and was the last American runner to reach the Boston podium. “I think it would be really special to the people of Boston.”
Linden, of Chula Vista, Calif., finished second when Flanagan won the 2012 Olympic trials on a different course here, but she dropped out of the race at the London Games with a stress fracture in her right leg that also prevented her from running Boston in 2013.
Now she is back as part of one of the best U.S. women’s fields in decades. The men’s contenders include Ryan Hall, who finished fourth in 2011 in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds – the fastest time run by an American marathoner – along with three-time Olympian and 2009 New York winner Meb Keflezighi.