BOSTON American Desiree Davila came into Monday's Boston Marathon relatively unheralded but her near-victory gave the United States something to cheer about on a day when African runners swept the men's and women's races.
Davila, who came within two seconds of winning the women's marathon, highlighted the best Boston performance for U.S. runners in years. Ryan Hall ran the fastest ever marathon for a U.S. man in finishing fourth.
Coming into the final mile Davila was in a pack with Kenyans Caroline Kilel and Sharon Cherup. Twice she pushed to a small lead. Cherup fell back, leaving Kilel and Davila to battle it out.
Kilel finally pulled clear, breaking the tape in 2:22:36.
"I even thought the last couple of strides there maybe there was a little more left and I just couldn't pull it off ... my legs were just shot," Davila said. "At the end it was just trying to keep contact."
Many spectators did not realize that Davila, 27, was an American. Instead of patriotic red, white and blue she was wearing the red and yellow colors of the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project, an elite running team for post-collegiate athletes based in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Once the buzz got around, shouts of "USA, USA" started to ripple through the huge crowds.
"I felt I could run with anyone today ... it just went perfectly for me, minus not winning," said Davila. Her 2:22:38 finish was the fastest for a U.S. woman at the Boston Marathon. Only two other U.S. women, Deena Kastor and Joan Samuelson, have run a faster marathon.
Davila was little discussed before the 115th running of the famous race, although her previous best, 2:26:20 from Chicago in 2010, suggested she could contend.
Last year's winner, Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia, has a best marathon time of 2:23:53.
The better known U.S. women's runner was Kara Goucher, 32, of Oregon, who two years ago finished third in Boston in a desperate fight to the finish.
Goucher, who gave birth to her son, Colt, in September 2010, returned to form on Monday with a 2:24:52, lowering her best time by almost a minute and finishing fifth.
Conditions for racing were perfect, with temperatures of 47 Fahrenheit (8 Celsius) and a brisk tailwind when the elite women set off from the small town of Hopkinton to run 26.2 miles into downtown Boston.
The last U.S. woman to win at Boston was Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985. Runners such as Goucher are aching to end the streak.
"I want to win here. Desi wants to win here. We all want to be the one that ends that drought," said Goucher. "It wasn't my day. I wasn't even close to being the one. I just go home and work harder."
The Boston drought in the men's race is even longer, back to Greg Mayer's victory in 1983.
Hall, 28, a lanky blond from Mammoth Lakes, California, and a crowd favorite, once again came close in a major race. Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya ran the fastest marathon ever on Monday, 2:03:02, to steal the show.
"I couldn't believe it. I was out there thinking I can't believe this is happening right now, I'm running 2:04 pace and I can't even see the leaders," said Hall.
"One of these days I'm going to break through when everybody else is having an off day."
(Writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by Greg McCune)