BOSTON — Shalane Flanagan grew up in nearby Marblehead watching her father run the Boston Marathon. Her mother was a marathoner, too, setting the women’s world record in 1971.
But Flanagan never ran her hometown race even as she was building a celebrated cross-country career that took her to three Olympics. Now, as the 31-year-old local favorite prepares to make her Boston debut, she gives the United States its best chance in years for a hometown victory.
“It’s a huge honor to be an American in this race,” Flanagan said as she prepared for Monday’s 117th Boston Marathon. “I feel almost sentimental about it because this is my city, in a way. This is my home course. It’s nice having the expectation to perform well.”
It’s been 30 years since Greg Meyer won the Boston Marathon, the last U.S. man to take the title at the longest-running long run in the world. Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach won the women’s race two years later, and since then it’s been a quarter-century of East Africans claiming the olive wreath in Copley Square.
Kenyans and Ethiopians have won the men’s race 23 times in the past 25 years, and on the women’s side they have won 14 of the last 16 titles.
In last year’s race, Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop took the titles and Kenya swept the men’s and women’s podiums.
Kenyan runners say the deep talent pool in their country gives them an advantage, allowing them to train together and then work together on race day.
But this year the Americans have a tag-team of their own. Flanagan has been training with Kara Goucher, a fellow Olympian who finished third here in 2009 and fifth in ‘11.
“Having a friend to go through it with makes it a team element, especially in a sport where you can get so isolated,” Goucher said. “At first I thought it was going to be a business relationship, and now we’re friends. I was thinking about retiring, and now I love it so much.”
Goucher said she owes making the Olympic team to Flanagan and would love to repay the favor by pushing a fellow American to victory. But Goucher hasn’t given up on breaking the tape herself.
“I know the course and I know my body,” she said. “I would just say that anybody that’s counting me out is going to have a surprise.”
Flanagan, who earned a bronze medal in Beijing in the 10,000 meters, said she has wanted to run Boston but her coach, Jerry Schumacher, encouraged her to stay off the hilly course until he was sure she was ready.
So, she ran the New York City Marathon in 2010, finishing second, then won the Olympic trials in January of 2012.
“He didn’t want my first impression to be negative,” said Flanagan, who finished 10th at the London Olympics, 16 seconds ahead of Goucher.
Now, she says, she’s ready.
And so is Goucher.
“There’s a reason why no one’s won in 20 years. It’s hard,” she said. “But I like our chances. It’s going to happen.
“This needs to happen,” she said. “We want an American to win, period.”