The 2014 Boston Marathon is sure to be an emotional event that transcends sports following the tragedy that unfolded in the city approximately a year ago at the race. But the focus has been all about staying strong, moving forward and uniting again for great causes.
All of those are prominent themes for the runners who will tackle Monday's 26.2-mile challenge through one of the USA's most prominent cities. This extraordinary athletic test is all about endurance and continuing to persevere with positivity amid adverse circumstances.
With the massive number of countries represented and their entrants able to bring home immense national and personal pride, this global gathering represents how powerful sports can be as a force for good.
Approximately 36,000 people will make the long trip around Boston by foot, but several elite competitors will be vying to pull off an epic triumph in this marathon's 118th annual running.
Here is a look at the course map, per Chris Imai on Twitter, and it's also viewable through the Boston Athletic Association's website:
The Boston Marathon Official Course Map pic.twitter.com/CESRrMxVsn— Chris Imai (@chrisimai) April 16, 2014
Below is the basic information for where to catch the action, along with elite start times and a preview of the men's and women's races and the top contenders to watch for.
Note: Race information courtesy of BAA.org.
When: Monday, April 21 at 9:32 a.m. ET (Women's Elite) and 10 a.m. ET (Men's Elite)
Where: Boston, Mass.
TV: Universal Sports Network and WBZ-TV (Boston)
Live Stream: WatchLive.BAA.org
Local Bostonian Shalane Flanagan will garner a ton of attention as the great American hope to win the title on Marathon Monday.
Flanagan has said that she'd rather win this race than an Olympic medal, per 60 Minutes' official Twitter account:
.@ShalaneFlanagan says she’d rather win the Boston Marathon than an Olympic medal: “It is personal...It's where I fell in love with running”— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 14, 2014
With that comes some pressure to live up to expectations and rise above a formidable group of competitors. At least Flanagan isn't shying away from the hype, and she posted an excellent fourth-place finish in 2013. Perhaps she can indeed do three better this time around.
Defending champion Rita Jeptoo is back in the fold, seeking her third win in this race to add to last year's victory and her breakthrough in 2006. Jeptoo's longevity in this sport is impressive, and she also won the 2013 Chicago Marathon with a sensational time of 2:19:57.
Josh Brogadir of New England Cable News weighed in on the women's race, feeling that Jeptoo's virtuoso performance in Chicago makes her the prohibitive favorite for Monday's showcase:
I know Chicago is a fast marathon, but Rita Jeptoo's sub 2:20 from 2013 is incredible. She'll be hard to beat Monday. Good luck to all— Josh Brogadir (@joshbNECN) April 19, 2014
But Jeptoo has some Kenyan compatriots that should figure prominently into the outcome. Sharon Cherop has finished no worse than third since her maiden Boston Marathon in 2011, and won in 2012. Jemima Jelagat Sumgong finished second to Jeptoo last year in Chicago with her personal best time of 2:20:48, per FloTrack.org's Mitch Kastoff.
Sumgong has come close to winning in Boston in the past, so it stands to reason that both her and Cherop will be running with even more fervor.
While those will be compelling storylines to watch, Flanagan will be the sentimental favorite. If she's able to pull off the win and beat out her tough peers, it will no doubt be one of the most significant victories in the race's history.
A time of 2:03:45 at the Chicago Marathon marked a course record for Kenya's Dennis Kimetto has him as a top contender to take the men's title in Boston.
Which American is likeliest to win?
Lelisa Desisa Benti will do his best to stop him in defense of his title, attempting to go back-to-back and bring another trophy back to Ethiopia. Benti must hold off Kimetto and American Meb Keflezighi, who is trying to prove at age 38 that he still has something left in the tank.
Just as Flanagan will do for the women, though, the USA's Ryan Hall is the most decorated runner and the best candidate to keep the title in his native land. Hall has battled through injuries, but is hoping that his training in Africa helps him emulate some of the elite runners that continent has produced.
The veteran spoke about his experiences, per the Boston Globe's Tim Healey:
“I’ve never seen so much growth in my training in such a short amount of time. Just being up there, it’s really easy to see why those guys are so dominant and why they’re so good. Training at 9,000 feet is totally unlike anything I’ve done before.
The crowds should be as impassioned as ever to Lisa Larsen Weidenbach was the last American woman to win in 1985, so Flanagan's prospective victory would be huge. It's been even longer (Greg Meyer, 1983) since a man claimed victory in the Boston Marathon.
Having an American win on Patriots' Day always holds special significance, but in light of what happened at last year's race, it would mean even more. Not only would it snap the USA's drought, but the incredible positivity surrounding it would bolster the narrative of turning a new page and moving on to the next chapter in this storied sporting spectacle.