If you watched the extraordinary coverage of the women’s lead pack on Universal Sports this morning, you were undoubtedly surprised and ecstatic to see an American in the lead pack screen shot late in the race. It wasn’t Runner’s World cover girl Kara Goucher, who claimed unprecedented attention leading up to the 115th Anniversary of the Boston Marathon, but rather the ‘media underdog’, Desiree Davila of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.
Television broadcasters neglected to mention Davila in their mid-race banter about American distance runners like Kara Goucher and Blake Russell; however, when she appeared in the lead pack, announcers scrambled to gather information on Davila and repeatedly referred to her as ‘Dasilva’. Do not be fooled, Davila has had her share of success in this sport, running the fastest marathon by an American woman in 2010 at Chicago in 2:26:20. Despite her success she has managed to stay under the radar. Clearly she didn’t need the pre-race exposure, and perhaps even thrived playing the underdog role in this year’s production of the world’s most prestigious running race.
During the first two hours of this production, Davila appeared to be an extra in Kim Smith’s leading role performance. Smith of New Zealand, who led by almost a minute during the first half of the race (half-marathon split of 1:10:52), later stepped off the course with what appeared to be an injury to her lower leg.
Davila didn’t join the lead pack until less than six miles to go. Her unwavering form and economical stride separated her from her competition, whose arms starting to flail and turnover started to slow. With about six kilometers to go the intention in Davila’s eyes could be seen behind her sporty black shades as she raised her arms to generate increased crowd support. As someone watching the race at home, this was the moment you started screaming at the television and wondering if this could really be happening. An American woman hadn’t captured the Boston Marathon title since Lisa Larsen-Rainsberger in 1985.
Fast forward to the last mile, when a pack of three including Caroline Kilel and Sharon Cherop of Kenya, and Desiree Davila came roaring through the legendary final turns on the Boston course. Word had spread to spectators lining the last mile of the course that an American woman was in contention for the title and the chanting of U-S-A became the overwhelming anthem of the final stretch. After a quick look behind her, Cherop realized her podium position was secure and fell off the lead group.
Then there were two.
With 1200 meters to go Davila made a distinct move in an attempt to drop Kilel. Initially it appeared that Davila may have timed it just right, but Kilel rallied and pulled ahead. Just when the crowds thought Davila had settled for second, she showed tremendous courage and put in another surge to take the lead with about 200 meters to go. Her lead was short-lived this time, as Kilel stepped on the gas and parked across the finish line, just seconds before Davila. Kilel’s winning time was 2:22:36.
Hearts ached and silence filled the living rooms of running enthusiasts across America. In our house it was tears.
While the underdog didn’t capture the win today, Davila ran one of the most intelligent races the Boston Marathon has ever seen. She negative split (ran second half faster than first half) with a first half of 1:11:42 and a second half marathon split of 1:10:56. Her cumulative time was a remarkable 2:22:38.
With a performance like this, it is unlikely that Davila will be casted as the underdog ever again.
Side Note: About her 2007 Boston Marathon debut Davila said, “I fell in love with the event. The history of Boston, the course, the crowds, it all just drew me in and made me want to be a successful marathoner. That year the weather was miserable and my race was forgettable, but the experience as a whole was incredible. As soon as I crossed the line I knew I would be back.” (Boston Athletic Association’s Athlete Details)
Davila came back that’s for sure and this time with vengeance….