Japanese athletes won both the men's and women's wheelchair divisions of the Boston Marathon, in what both runners described as an "emotional" training period that saw a 9.0 earthquake and nuclear disaster devastate Japan in March.
The men's race was even closer than last year, the closest race in a decade. Masazumi Soejima unseated 9-time Boston winner Ernst Van Dyk (South Africa), just as he had in 2007. Soejima is the only man to beat Van Dyk since 2001. Soejima finished in 1:18:50, followed by Australian Kurt Fearnley in 1:18:51 and just a few tenths of a second in front of Van Dyk, also clocking in at 1:18:50.
The men, aided by a strong tailwind, finished 8 minutes faster than 2010, but fell short of Van Dyk's 2004 course record of 1:18:27.
(Above, Tsuchida at the finish; photos by Melanie Lidman)
Four-time champion Wakako Tsuchida of Japan won the women's wheelchair division with a time of 1:34:06, nine and a half minutes better than 2010. Tsuchida will need an additional three wins at Boston to catch the winningest female wheelchair athlete, America Jean Driscoll, who won Boston eight times and held the ribbon at the finish line on Monday.
Tsuchida was six minutes ahead of the second- and third-place finishers, Americans Shirley Reilly and Christina Ripp, who finished in 1:41:01 and 1:41:02 respectively.
"This is fantastic," Boston Athletic Assocation senior director Guy Morse told Outside Online at the finish line after Tsuchida crossed. "Nothing surprises me, I know how cometitive they are... I'm sure it's more meaningful [this year], it's part of the motivation that has them pushing a little harder."
Immediately following the race, Tsuchida said she was "overwhelmed by support" in the past month. "I wanted to do well for everyone, especially back in Japan," she said.Tsuchida's training was interrupted by the earthquake, forcing her to travel to three different regions in Japan in the six weeks before the race to complete her training.
Soejima, who wore a sticker with the words "strength and courage," said he wore it for the country and also for himself. "Boston's always close to my heart, it's my favorite race," he said. "I wanted to try hard this year especially, to do well for my country," he said.
(Soejima at the finish)