BOSTON - American Kara Goucher ripped off the gloves she wore for the first 25 miles and threw them to the pavement.
The sprint was on.
Kenya's Salina Kosgei outkicked Goucher and defending champion Dire Tune in the last mile of the Boston Marathon Monday, going back and forth with Tune in the final blocks of Boylston Street to win the closest women's race in event history.
Ethiopia's Deriba Merga won the men's race, with Ryan Hall picking up another third place for the Americans - their best showing in more than 20 years.
"I've never experienced anything like this, and I've been in the Rose Parade. So that's a pretty big deal," said Hall, who finished 10th in the Olympics and threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game over the weekend.
"The bar's continuing to get raised, and I think it's time for Americans to step up and meet the challenge. It's just going to keep getting better and better and faster and faster. I know I have a lot to learn. But it's exciting."
Hall took the early lead with a blistering pace and was shoulder-to-shoulder were with the leaders until they passed from Wellesley into Newton, with about 10 miles to go. Merga had pulled away by the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, winning in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 42 seconds - 50 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Daniel Rono of Kenya, with Hall another eight seconds back.
Merga's victory yesterday gave Ethiopia its second in five years; Kenya had won in 16 of the last 18 years and will have to be satisfied with a women's title - its seventh since the turn of the century.
"Boston is one of the biggest marathons in the world," Merga said. "Because of that, our people are very happy."
The men seemed undaunted by a stiff headwind that helped slowed the women to a methodical pace - 6:28 for the first mile. Though the elite women were given a half-hour head start, Merga began passing the stragglers as he left Wellesley and threatened to catch the leaders. After finishing, he had to wait for his laurel wreath because Kosgei had not had a chance to climb the podium.
"I was a little bit embarrassed," said eighth-place finisher Colleen De Reuck, a 45-year-old four-time Olympian and naturalized U.S. citizen who grabbed the lead at several points out of frustration. "You come to a marathon - and a big marathon like this - you get paid a lot of money to come and run, and I think you should race."
Goucher led the three women as they crossed above the MassPike into Kenmore Square with one mile to go, but the two Africans began to pull away from her. One year after Tune outkicked Alevtina Biktimirova to win by two seconds in what was then the closest women's finish ever, the Ethiopian traded places with Kosgei several times on the last long stretch to the tape.
The only closer finish in the 113-year history of the event was the men's race in 2000, when Elijah Lagat beat Gezahegne Abera with an identical time of 2:09:47.
Tune fell to the pavement after crossing the finish line and lay there for several minutes; a race spokesman said she was hospitalized as a precaution. Men's defending champion Robert
Cheruiyot, who was going for an unprecedented fourth straight title and fifth overall, dropped out of the race between the 35K and 40K markers and was also taken to a hospital.
Goucher burst into tears and was consoled by her husband.
"I just wanted to be the one that won for everybody," said the 30-year-old American. "Usually I have a great kick. I thought it was going to be there."