BOSTON – Yuki Kawauchi will attempt to defend his Boston Marathon crown on Monday with Mother Nature poised to lend a hand in the 123rd edition of the prestigious annual showpiece.
A year ago, the eccentric Kawauchi upset a star-studded field to prevail in foul conditions in a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes and 54 seconds, the slowest winning time in the Boston Marathon since 1976.
With rain, wind and chilly temperatures expected to test runners once more, Kawauchi could well thrive again as he attempts to become the first man since Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot in 2008 to defend the title.
Kawauchi’s victory was a stunning triumph for the 32-year-old, who for much of his career held down a full-time job as a government clerk while simultaneously training and competing in marathons around the world.
This year’s Boston Marathon will also be a family affair for Kawauchi, whose mother Mika is running in the women’s race.
Kawauchi meanwhile said he expects his rivals to eye him more warily following his win last year.
“Regardless of the weather conditions, the other athletes probably are going to be paying more attention to me than they did last year,” Kawauchi told the Boston Globe.
To be successful, Kawauchi will need to overcome a field which includes five of Boston’s six winners going back to the 2012 race, won by Kenya’s Wesley Korir. The only recent winner not taking part is 2014 champion Meb Keflezighi of the United States.
The biggest threats could come from 2017 Boston and world champion Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa, the 2013 and 2015 Boston champion and winner of the New York Marathon last year.
In the women’s race, meanwhile, defending champion Desiree Linden is once more hoping to exploit the challenging conditions forecast for Monday.
Linden was the first American woman to triumph in Boston since 1985 when she outlasted her rivals last year to win in 2:39:54. Last year’s winning time was the slowest since Gayle Barron won the 1978 race in 2:44:52.
Linden however said this week that her victory in last year’s race, which followed a long sequence of top-10 finishes without a win, had lifted a weight off her shoulders.
“I felt like I always had this in me and it was becoming a monkey-on-the-back type thing, even though it was really difficult and not a guarantee by any means,” Linden said.
“Once that was checked off and done, I’m free to take bigger chances and be picky with races. If it’s not exciting me, if it isn’t something I’m passionate about running, I’m not going to do it.”
The 35-year-old said she plans to take a more risky approach on Monday against a field which includes 2017 champion Edna Kiplagat, 2015 winner Caroline Rotich and Kenya’s Sharon Cherop, a victor in Boston in 2012.
“I would love to win again,” said Linden. “But I’m also willing to stick my neck out a little more than ever before to race aggressively.
“And if it all goes sideways, that’s a possibility, too. I’m comfortable putting myself on the line and risking that. Which is different than the past.”