BOSTON (CBS) — For decades, there was a notion that no American woman could win any of the country’s marathons. That has changed in the last two years thanks to Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Linden.

Flanagan broke through first, ending a four-decade drought for American women when she won the New York City Marathon in 2017. Just over a year later, Linden did the same, ending a 33-year drought for American women in Boston, being the first to break the tape on a rainy New England day.

Shalane Flanagan won the 2017 New York City Marathon. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

“I think with Des and I in that year, with me winning in New York and then that spring her winning Boston, I think it has really changed the perspective, the outlook, and the confidence of American women,” Flanagan recently told WBZ-TV. “I feel like the American women have this swagger about them. They look at Des and I and think ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’

“It’s that whole concept of seeing people like you and feeling like if they can do it, why can’t I have that moment,” she continued. “That self-belief becomes a lot larger and the bar is completely blown out of the water. The expectations are much higher now, and that’s a fun place to be, to really be dreaming of these wins.”

Flanagan hopes that her’s and Linden’s victories provide a confidence boosts for U.S. elite runners like Sarah Sellers (who finished a surprising second last year), Jordan Hasay (third at Boston in 2017), Sally Kipyego and Sara Hall, who are all looking to keep pace with Linden at the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Flanagan recalls being told numerous times throughout her career that she couldn’t compete with her African counterparts. Over the years, there were times when both her and Linden wanted to quit — either as they trained or in the middle of races.

But being told they’d never be able to do something — especially win a marathon — was part of what drove Flanagan and Linden throughout their 26.2-mile victories. Now they hope it has helped paved the way for others like them to keep reaching for their goal.

“I think Des and I grew up with a chip on our shoulder. We were always told, ‘The East Africans are just better than you, you can’t compete with them.’ I was told that a lot growing up, that I wasn’t good enough or talented enough,” said Flanagan. “We always thought we just had to work harder, and sometimes working harder was a bit of a self-sabotage, because you get injured trying to risk for big moments.”

Flanagan recalls a low time for both she and Linden, when neither earned a medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. It was one of the many times she thought that winning a marathon may never actually happen for her.

But luckily for Flanagan, and runners everywhere, both she and Linden kept going. Now both have an olive wreath to prove that they can indeed win their 26.2 mile races against the best runners in the world, and they hope it inspires another generation of runners in the U.S.

“It’s amazing how you get to that point where you think you’re going to give up, but right when you don’t, that vital moment, it’s when things change,” said Flanagan. “The momentum of the two of us having wins within a relatively close time period is super special, as is having it be such a motivating factor for the next generation and the current generation.”

Desi Linden after winning the 2018 Boston Marathon. (Photo credit RYAN MCBRIDE/AFP/Getty Images)

Flanagan’s days of running the Boston Marathon are over, as she’ll now provide her commentary on the WBZ-TV broadcast of the 123rd running of the race.

Comments (5)
  1. El Mar says:

    It’s great that American women won in NY and Boston after so many years. It is amazing and strange too. For several years there have been certain American women who were the ones most likely to do it. There was Deena Kastor, Shalane Flanigan, and Desiree LInden as the ones who had the most potential. . There was also Molly Huddle and Amy Craig and a few others but they came onto the scene well after Kastor, Flanigan and LInden.
    The thing with the current crop of American women marathon runners is that most are in their 30s and though marathon running is the kind of sport in which people who are 40 seriously compete with people who are 19 , it is still common for top marathon runners to retire by their mid to late 30s. Shalane and Linden were both “older women” still pursuing an elusive win and they enabled American marathon fans to see American women win on US soil within the lifetime of people who were alive when the last American female won in New York and/or in Boston. When Flanigan crossed the finish line in NYC in 2017, some people watching on TV or at the finish line could remember the last time an American woman won and wondered when it could happen again. Some people got to see it within the first 20 years (or less ) of their lives.
    After saying that, there are few young female runners who are promising enough to become the next American Hopefuls, women under the age of 25. Unlike male marathon runners in which there are some men who are only in their early 20’s like Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, current top female marathon runners seem to be mostly the ones who have been around for over a decade in the sport.
    And of course it could be said that Flanigan’s NY win was a matter of peculiar luck since the entire race was considered to be a “slow” women’s race, and world class female runners can run a marathon significantly faster than some 2 hours and 27 minutes and a few seconds, and it could be said that Mary Kitany and other African runners did not do so well in 2017 rather than it being a matter of Flanigan doing so well. And also Desiree Linden’s win was so much more so a case of peculiar luck since the very strange extreme weather caused a lot of top athletes to drop out so that Linden did not have to worry about the toughest competitors rather than just continuing in the race battling the cold and wet conditions.
    It is indeed astonishing that after a great “American-female drought” in NY and Boston that American women then won in simultaneous years.
    What are the chances of seeing it happen again so soon though? Deena Kastor essentially has been called the best American female runner of this generation, but Molly Huddle seems to be the overall best hope. Kara Goucher unfortunately seems to have faded from the sport. Amy Craig and Emily Sisson , Allie Kieffer , Sarah Crouch, Jordan Hasay, Becky Wade, Laura Thweatt are all the best known hopefuls and marathon-running fans could be very surprised as to who of these will be the next American woman to win almost any major marathon in which the world’s best compete.
    But probably though there might be “close finishes” or amazing performances, the chances are that marathon fans will not see another American woman win in quite a while, possibly another 40 years.
    On the men’s side, there essentially is only Galen Rupp currently.

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