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Peter Ciaccia, the TCS New York City Marathon race director, said it best on Friday: “American women are having a moment right now.”
American women distance runners have produced some phenomenal performances over the past year, starting with Shalane Flanagan’s historic victory at the NYC Marathon last November. As Flanagan joyfully crossed the line, pumping her fist and shouting an expletive, she became the first American woman in 40 years to win the race.
It was a glorious moment years in the making.
Running professionally for Nike since 2004, Flanagan, an Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000 meters, has been one of the country’s top women distance runners for more than a decade, an incredible achievement in a sport that can break even the most gifted and driven runners. Flanagan’s remarkable longevity, consistent success and eagerness to guide other women has undoubtedly helped the steady rise of American women’s distance running in recent years. At last year’s NYC Marathon, a total of four American women, including Flanagan, finished in the top 10.
At 37, Flanagan has returned to defend her title, in part because she’s inspired by her competitors as much as she has inspired them. “What made me want to come back is seeing the field of American women lining up to run this race,” Flanagan said at a New York Road Runners press conference on Friday. “They’re dreaming, ‘Maybe it’s my turn. Maybe it’s my race.’ That excites me and makes me want to be part of the race even more when I see that other athletes are excited.”
When two-time American Olympic marathoner Desiree Linden—who sat out last year’s NYC race—sent a congratulatory tweet to Flanagan after her win last year, Flanagan famously tweeted back: “Now it’s your turn.”
Linden’s turn to shine came in April at the Boston Marathon. On a bitterly cold, wet and windy day, she persevered to win the race, the first American woman to do so in 33 years. Flanagan finished seventh overall.
When the marathon champions face each other again on Sunday, they won’t only be keeping an eye on each other. The deeply talented American women’s field includes Molly Huddle, the American half-marathon record holder and 2016 NYC Marathon runner-up, Allie Kieffer, a surprise fifth-place finisher at last year’s race and Stephanie Bruce, who took 10th in 2017.
Could three American women wind up on the podium?
Huddle, aiming for a top-three finish, said it would be very tough considering the strength of Kenyans Mary Keitany, a three-time NYC Marathon champion, and Vivian Cheruiyot, the 2018 London Marathon winner. But American women snagging the top spots is “definitely not impossible,” Huddle said. “Maybe five years ago I would’ve said it’s impossible.”
Meanwhile, Bruce, winner of the 2018 U.S. 10K road championships, also hopes to be in the mix and finish better than 10th place. “An amazing day would be top five, and if the stars align, maybe get on the podium,” she said. “I just want to feel like the Stephanie that I feel I can be. I want to feel 100 percent out there on Sunday.”
Flanagan says that as the reigning champion, she actually feels relaxed about her race strategy.
“I feel just as excited, but there’s a sense of peace and calm to my approach, not feeling this desperation,” she said Friday. “Sometimes in the past, this would make me feel like I had to force things. There’s an element of just letting it flow.”