Japan school worker a class act in Boston

Amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi, 31, crosses the finish line to become the first Japanese man in 31 years to win the Boston Marathon on Monday. He has run four marathons this year and won all of them.
Amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi, 31, crosses the finish line to become the first Japanese man in 31 years to win the Boston Marathon on Monday. He has run four marathons this year and won all of them.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON • Yuki Kawauchi's improbable victory at the Boston Marathon on Monday is the crowning glory in the career of an amateur Japanese runner who has defied every convention in modern athletics and taken the road less travelled to make his mark.

The 31-year-old from Saitama holds down a full-time job working as an administrator at a local high school, and trains without the aid of a coach or sponsorship.

And he has competed in more than 80 marathons.

Rain, strong winds and the coldest temperatures in 30 years upended the marathon on Monday, but that did not stop Kawauchi from becoming the first Japanese man in 31 years to win the race.

Desiree Linden became the first US woman to win in 33 years.

The temperature hovered at around 3 deg C, and a headwind of about 16kmh blew in runners' faces in the 122nd edition of the famed 42.1km showdown over city streets.

Kawauchi overtook defending champion Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya over the final 2km to win in 2hr 15min 58sec with Kirui finishing in 2:18:23 and American Shadrack Biwott 12sec further back in third.

"For me, these are the best conditions possible. If they had been regular conditions, it might have been a little bit tougher to beat some of the competition," Kawauchi told reporters after the race.

Kawauchi defies the standard custom of elite runners of entering just two or three marathons a year. Many of Japan's top marathoners compete for corporate teams that dictate very different schedules. The victory on Monday was his fourth marathon, and fourth victory, of this year. It was also his fifth consecutive win.

Kawauchi became the first Japanese men's winner at Boston since Toshihiko Seko captured his second title in 1987 and the eighth Japanese man to win the race.

The last Asian champion was South Korea's Lee Bong Ju in 2001.

"This is the greatest day of my life," Kawauchi added. "This is Boston. This is the greatest race in the world. I don't think there was a single person in Boston who thought I would win this today."

Linden, 34, thought about dropping out of the race midway because she was not drinking enough fluids and was afraid of getting cramps in her legs.

But she won her first major marathon in 2:39:53, with compatriot Sarah Sellers, who works as a nurse, coming in second in 2:44:04. Canada's Krista Duchene was third in 2:44:20.

Linden said she felt early on as if she would not be able to finish the race, but slowed early to help fellow American Shalane Flanagan recover after a toilet stop and found herself boosted by working to help the reigning New York Marathon champion, who placed seventh.

"At mile 2-3-4, I didn't even feel like I could make it to the finish line," Linden said. "Helping her helped me and I got my legs back."

No American woman had won the Boston crown since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985, but Linden did it in the sixth Boston start of her 16 marathons.

Linden said her desire to run the course in Boston was the reason she started running marathons.

She has a golden retriever named Boston, and had another named Miles who died last year. She has finished in the top 10 four times, and her previous highest finish was a second-place berth in 2011.

"I love this city, this race, this course. It's storybook stuff. This is a race the entire city cares about. I'm thrilled to be here and to get it done," Linden added.

Due to the weather, there were fewer fans lining the streets to cheer on the runners. Those who opted to brave the weather taped plastic bags to their sneakers and wore garbage bags in lieu of waterproof jackets.

The rain was so bad that the traditional Patriots' Day Red Sox baseball game was postponed for the first time since 1984.

The race also marked five years since the bombing tragedy in which two explosions near the finish line killed three people and wounded more than 260.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2018, with the headline 'Japan school worker a class act in Boston'. Print Edition | Subscribe