At the 15-mile mark of the women’s race at the 120th Boston Marathon on Monday, the pack had dwindled to four women. Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia was not one of them. At 22 miles, she was 37 seconds behind.
But when the race was over, Baysa, 29, had stormed past the leaders for an unlikely victory.
Her countryman Lemi Berhanu Hayle, just 21, won the men’s race. It was the first time Ethiopians won the men’s and women’s races in the same year.
The women’s race initially followed the familiar pattern of a large pack that gradually dwindles. At 15 miles, it seemed as if one of four women would win: three Kenyans, Valentine Kipketer, Flomena Cheyech Daniel and Joyce Chepkirui, and an Ethiopian, Tirfi Tsegaye.
Daniel was the first to fall away, followed by Kipketer. Tsegaye and Chepkirui ran together, until Baysa unexpectedly came into the picture with a fierce rally, passing both with 2 miles to go. Tsegaye was second and Chepkirui third.
Baysa is a veteran marathoner, with wins in Paris, Istanbul and Chicago. She won Monday in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 19 seconds.
The women’s favorite, Caroline Rotich of Kenya, the defending champion, dropped out after 5 miles.
The race this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first woman to finish, Roberta Gibb.
On the men’s side, a two-time champion, Lelisa Desisa, pushed the pace in the hills at 15 miles, and only Berhanu Hayle went with him. The two pulled away from the rest of the field and ran side by side almost the rest of the way until Berhanu Hayle pulled away to win in 2:12:45.
The precocious Berhanu Hayle had won some lesser marathons in Zurich; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Warsaw, Poland; but Monday’s win was by far his biggest.
Desisa is a well-liked figure in Boston who formed a bond with the city after winning in 2013, the year of the terrorist bombing at the race, and again last year. He donated his winning medal from 2013 to the city.
The U.S. contingent in both races was small, as most of the big names were focused on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The top Americans were Zachary Hine in 10th and Neely Spence Gracey in ninth.
Ethiopians and Kenyans in the race were hoping to impress their national selectors for the Olympics.
The men’s wheelchair race was won by the defending champion, Marcel Hug of Switzerland, in a close three-way finish over the 10-time winner Ernst van Dyk and Kurt Fearnley in 1:24:01.
The women’s wheelchair race was won for the fourth straight year by Tatyana McFadden of the United States. She won by more than a minute, in 1:42:15.