By Jean Cann
A tailwind and warm, dry weather, along with a world-class field, helped set the stage for fast times in the push rim wheelchair division at the 121st Boston Marathon. Swiss athletes stole the show with course records and world best times in both the men’s and women’s races. Marcel Hug took the men’s title in 1:18:04, 21 seconds faster than the previous course record and world best set by Canadian Joshua Cassidy in 2012. Manuela Schar shattered the 2011 course record set by five-time Boston victor Wakako Tsuchida by more than five minutes, crossing the line in 1:28:17. While Hug shared the limelight with co-star Ernst Van Dyk, who finished second in the same time as Hug, Schar was literally the leading lady for the duration.
“It’s incredible. I like this race,” said Hug, who earned his third straight Boston victory and the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series X title. “This marathon. It’s so great. We had a good race today. Working hard with Ernst, sharing the lead. It was very fast. It was a very fast race today.”
Van Dyk, a ten-time Boston Marathon champion, became the first marathoner to break 1:20 when he won at Boston in 2004 (1:18:27). Today, the experienced athlete shared his wisdom with the younger Hug, age 31, after they found themselves alone by 20k and passed the halfway point in 36:08. “I know this course very well and I know exactly which splits are at which points,” said the 44-year-old South African. “I told Marcel, ‘Look, we are about a minute-and-a-half ahead of the course record. If we maintain this pace and push each other, maybe we could pull it off together.
“We stuck to the plan, although we did attack each other. He surged. I surged, and it came down to a sprint. And I think it’s nice to get that really, really fast time.”
The world best time surprised Hug. “It feels incredible,” said the champion about his win. “I’m really, really happy to do it. I didn’t expect it this morning at the start and really had no idea how fast I could go. I’m really, really happy to make this record time on this historic course.”
All but two of the top ten men clocked personal best times. Hiroki Nishida, a former baseball catcher from Japan, came the closest to challenging Hug and Van Dyk. Nishida stayed with the leaders through 15k, before falling back to fifth in 1:20:08. Eventual third place finisher Hiroyuki Yamamoto (1:19:32) passed Nishida by 30k. Fourth-place finisher Kurt Fearnley (AUS) caught Nishida in the final 5K and nipped him in a sprint finish though their final times were identical.
Americans Josh George (1:21:47) and Aaron Pike (1:22:09) took the next two spots, with Spaniards Rafael Botello Jimenez (1:22:09) and Jordi Madera Jimenez (1:22:10) finishing eighth and ninth. Japan’s Kota Hokinoue rounded out the top ten.
In the women’s race, Schar took center stage in Hopkinton and never looked back. “I didn’t think about going at record pace. I just went from the beginning and didn’t know how close they were, so I just raced and raced and raced,” said the new record-holder. “I didn’t expect to make it to the finish by myself.” The second and third place finishers Amanda McGrory (1:33:13) and Susannah Scaroni (1:33:17), both of the U.S., broke the course record and achieved personal bests also, but Schar had already gapped the field by nearly a minute at the half (41:29), and increased her lead all the way to Boston.
“I was giving everything I could to catch back to Amanda,” said Scaroni. “Just really hoping we were going to catch back to see those lights on the back of the truck and never did.”
Of Schar, McGrory said: “Susannah and I both chased back and forth for a little while. We were chasing hard and hoping to make up a little ground, but she was untouchable today.”
On the stages of many top races Schar has played the understudy, often finishing second to Tatyana McFadden, who had won the Boston, London, Chicago, and New York City Marathons all for the last four years. “It’s totally my day, obviously,” said the new victor. “I was at the start line ready to suffer, ready to fight and give my best. Finally! Finally after so many second place finishes, it turned out well. I’m speechless.”
McFadden, who had missed some training after being hospitalized with blood clots, still took fourth today in a personal best 1:35:05.
In fifth through seventh, American Chelsea McClammer, Australian Christie Dawes, and 2012 Boston champion Shirley Reilly (USA) competed in a pack and all finished within seven seconds, in 1:37:09, 1:37:14, and 1:37:16. Reilly’s time bettered her 2012 winning time by 20 seconds.
Also finishing in the top ten were Magriet Van Den Broek (NED), and University of Illinois students Katrina Gerhard, an Acton-Boxborough High School graduate, and Arielle Rausin.
As brilliant as Hug’s performance was today, it served as a curtain call for the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series X, which started last year in Boston. Hug had already captured the Abbott WMM title before the end of 2016 with six major marathon wins, including a gold medal showing at the Rio Paralympic Games. McFadden had also secured the Abbott WMM championship before the close of 2016. She scored 116 points to Schar’s 98 and McGrory’s 68. Abbott World Marathon Majors Series XI will open at the Virgin Money London Marathon on April 23.