Buzunesh Deba will leave the Boston Marathon with one champion’s medal this week.
She would like to make it two.
The 29-year-old Ethiopian inherited the 2014 title this December when Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo was stripped of her victory for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Jeptoo joins Rosie Ruiz, who was caught cutting the course in 1980, as the only people to be disqualified from the Boston Marathon after breaking the tape on Boylston Street.
“She took my chance,” Deba said this week after returning to Boston, where she has also finished third and seventh. “I lost so many things.”
When Ruiz took a shortcut to the finish line, she deprived Jacqueline Gareau of the thrill of breaking the tape , being crowned with the traditional olive wreath and hearing the Canadian national anthem waft over Copley Square. Race officials, who were immediately skeptical of the unknown and unseen Ruiz, made it up to Gareau with a substitute victory ceremony and even had her cross the finish line again — this time in street clothes.
But Gareau’s victory was in the race’s amateur era, so there was no cash to recover.
Jeptoo, whose 2006 and 2013 victories remain unchallenged, claimed $150,000 for the victory and an additional $25,000 for setting a course record. Both legally belong to Deba, whose time of 2 hours, 19 minutes, 59 seconds remains the fastest in Boston Marathon history, but the Boston Athletic Association would have to claw it back from Jeptoo.
“We are trying,” CEO Tom Grilk said.
In the year after the finish line explosions that killed three people and wounded hundreds more, Jeptoo herself was already an afterthought, coming in just minutes before Meb Keflezighi claimed the first American victory in the men’s race since 1983 . As “The Star-Spangled Banner” played over Boylston Street, Jeptoo’s third win — even in a course-record time — drew less attention than normal.
But for Deba, it was costly. All the after-the-fact ceremonies, medals and even the prize money — if she ever gets it — wouldn’t make up for the opportunities lost when she wasn’t able to capitalize on being a returning champion.
“When you are the champion, the next year, the appearance fees, the contracts, everything” is more lucrative, the two-time New York City Marathon runner-up said this week. “My happiness is that day. But she took it from me.”
Deba’s husband and coach, Worku Beyi, said they are talking to B.A.A. officials about the prize money, “but it is not 100 percent.” They are hoping Jeptoo will return the money.
“She knows herself she is not champion,” Beyi said.
Deba has a chance to steal back the spotlight on Monday, when she joins a field of more than 30,000 in Hopkinton for the 121st edition of the race. Among them are defending champion Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia; Kenya’s Gladys Cherono, who has the fastest time in the field; and two-time Olympian Desi Linden, who is trying to become the first American woman to win in Boston since 1985.
The men’s field includes defending champion Lemi Hale, who last year completed Ethiopia’s first sweep; 2012 winner Wesley Korir; and Keflezighi, who is planning to retire after the New York City race in the fall. Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 60s are expected to greet the runners for the 26.2-mile trek to Boston’s Back Bay.
Security will be tighter than before the 2013 bombings, but race director Dave McGillivray is hoping things are getting back to normal after three races without incident.
“I just feel like we’re back to putting on a road race,” he said. “Everything is running smooth. We just want to get it on.”
Associated Press Writer William J. Kole contributed to this report.
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