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Marathon May Be A 'Passing Of The Torch' For U.S. Runners02:15

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As the first runners prepared to start the 113th Boston Marathon on Monday morning, Morning Edition spoke with WBUR's Alex Ashlock for a preview of the race.

This year is the 113th running of the Boston Marathon. What will you be watching for?

ALEX ASHLOCK: Well, the big story line I think is  is whether or not the American runners can end the long drought in this race, which has been dominated for many years by African runners, on both the men's and women's side. The last American winners here were in 1983  for the men — that was Greg Meyer, 1985 for the women — Lisa Larson-Weidenbach.

Is there reason to be optimistic?

ASHLOCK: Well, it's pretty difficult to predict the marathon — 26 miles,  385 yards — but I think there is some reason to be optimistic. Ryan Hall has the fastest marathon time of anyone coming into this race today.

He also finished tenth in the Olympic Marathon last year in Beijing, so he does have experience running against the best runners in the world.  Hall says he is here to win, but he was asked over the weekend whether that's being a bit presumptuous.

'I don't know if it's presumptuous or not,' Hall said. 'You now, you don't know what kind of fitness the other guys are in, but I know I'm in top form and I believe I am going to run really well.'

He's very smart and he's also devastating on the hills in Newton. That's where he usually wins this race.

As talented as he is, he will be running against one of the greats of all time here at the Boston Marathon. Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot is going after his fifth overall win today and his fourth straight. No one has ever won four straight titles.

He's a very smart runner. When I asked him the other day why he's so successful in this particular race, his answer was pretty simple: he said he trains hard.

What about the women?

ASHLOCK: Defending champion Dire Tune of Ethiopia is back. Last year, it was a tremendous women's race. She won by only two seconds in a sprint down Boylston Street.

But again, just like in the men's race, there is an American who has a chance, her name is Kara Goucher. She was third in the New York Marathon last fall. This is only her second marathon ever, however, but still she told me the lack of experience doesn't intimidate her.

'I think that each marathon I am going to get better,' Goucher said. 'But I believe that I am prepared as I can be at this point in my life and I feel like, if I have a good day, I can compete with anybody.'

Who else should we be watching for?

ASHLOCK: Well I think a lot of people will be watching Bill Rodgers — the four-time Boston winner, running this race for the first time in ten years, since 1999. He had to drop out on those hills in Newton, at Heartbreak Hill.

This year's race for Bill Rodgers I think will be sort of a sentimental journey for him and also for fans in Boston. He's such a well-known figure here, he's sort of the Bobby Orr or Bill Russell of running.  He's 61 years old now, he had prostate cancer surgery last year. He says his goal today is to just finish the race.

'You can't have your last marathon be a DNF. 'Though I don't know if this is my last one, but that's a bad feeling, to drop out. My kids were waiting at the finish line. That was depressing.'

DNF stands for "Did Not Finish" and if you're a runner you never want those initials to be next to your name in the race results.

Another very important name in the Boston Marathon world is Joan Benoit Samuelson, you spoke with her, she's a two-time winner. Is she running this year?

ASHLOCK: She's not expected to. But I had to wonder the other day, we were talking about her experiences here. She finished fourth on Sunday in the new Marathon Weekend 5K race, that the BAA added, but again you have to wonder if she might give Boston another chance, especially after her experience here last year running in the women's Olympic Trials Marathon.

'It was a very special day,' Benoit Samuelson told me.  'And I said at the time it would be my last competitive marathon, but I never said what constitutes competitive. So I left the door open and the fact that Bill's running here certainly inspires me to come back and run this course again.'

Final thoughts on this year's race?

ASHLOCK: Well, you wonder whether this might be a day of a sort of passing of the torch for the American runners: Bill Rodgers to Ryan Hall, Joan Benoit Samuelson, possibly, to Kara Goucher.

These younger American runners, when you talk to them, they really seem to understand the history of this race, what it would mean to win here. All they have to do is do it. That's the hard part. We'll know whether they can soon.

This program aired on April 20, 2009.

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