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Boston, April 18, 2014 -- Becoming Boston Marathon champion has been equated to the pinnacle of long distance running. Many, including American Olympian Shalane Flanagan, believe winning the granddaddy of all road races is more prestigious than an Olympic gold medal, more fulfilling than a victory in any other World Marathon Majors event. After all, the Boston Marathon has 118 years of history, having first been run in 1897.
A trio of past women's champions from Kenya have returned here hoping for another laurel wreath, ready to battle it out for supremacy against a field that includes ten women who have run under 2:23:00.
No runner in the elite women's field is more decorated than defending champion Rita Jeptoo. Hailing from Eldoret, the 33-year-old prevailed late in last year's race, claiming a comfortable win in 2:26:25 ahead of Ethiopia's Meseret Hailu Debele and fellow Kenyan Sharon Cherop. She ran the second (and uphill) half of the course in 1:10:51.
With her victory, Jeptoo joined an elite club of two-time Boston Marathon champions; in 2006 she broke the tape first on Boylston Street in 2:23:38. In the seven years between her two titles, Jeptoo became a mother and took a year off from running completely.
Looking back over her career, Jeptoo smiles fondly.
"For me, Boston is Boston. It's Boston," she said, pausing in an attempt to look for more meaningful words. "It's Boston."
A marathon specialist, Jeptoo has run under 2:28:00 nine times, including a personal best of 2:19:57 earned en route to winning last year's Bank of America Chicago Marathon. While she has won marathons in Chicago, Milan, Stockholm, and Eldoret --and placed well at the IAAF World Championships-- Boston is the specialist memory of all.
"I am very happy to come here again, to come back and run and try my best," she told Race Results Weekly.
If Jeptoo wins a third time, she would join an illustrious list of female runners to capture three or more Boston titles. Among those to have done so include Kenya's Catherine Ndereba (four titles), Ethiopia's Fatuma Roba (three), Germany's Uta Pippig (three), and Portugal's Rosa Mota (three).
After hearing Ndereba's name, Jeptoo perked up and let out an "Ooh!," overcome with joy. Simply hearing her own name in the same sentence as "Catherine The Great" --arguably the best female marathoner of all time-- got her attention and was an honor.
"I will try my best," she said. "I try my best two times and a third."
Affirming training has gone well and that she is ready to race from Hopkinton to Boston for a sixth time, Jeptoo's eyes are on the $150,000 first-place prize. She has finished in the top-six at Boston five times.
No women's champion has successfully retained their title since Ndereba did so in 2004 and 2005, her third and fourth wins, respectively.
Jeptoo uses few words but speaks with energy. When asked if winning the Boston Marathon had been the best days of her life, she once again came to life.
"Yes! Happiest moment," she said, shaking her head up and down.
Fellow Kenyans Sharon Cherop and Caroline Kilel had similar answers. Cherop, who won on a brutally hot day in 2012, and Kilel, champion in a sprint finish in 2011, both want to earn their second race crowns.
"I am so, so happy to be back again in Boston," said Cherop, a mother of one. "I like coming back each and every year. I am going to try my best and I know if I win two times, it will be very very special."
Also returning are elite Americans Desiree Linden (nee Davila), second to Kilel in 2011, and last year's fourth place finisher Shalane Flanagan.
No American woman has won in Boston since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985.
Despite the strong field, Jeptoo will do her best to assure that she hoists the large, silver trophy outside of the Boston Public Library on Monday. On the winner's platform, she feels most at home.
"I want the same from last year this year," she said.