In the 2023 Boston Marathon women’s race, elite competitor Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel delivered a dominant performance on Monday, finishing third in her Boston debut.
“It feels great,” Chemtai Salpeter told the Jewish Journal. “I was fighting for the podium. For me, it was a great day today.”
The Boston Marathon did not return an inquiry as to whether she was the first Israeli ever to make the podium in the historic race, which marked its 127th edition this Patriots’ Day.
This was Chemtai Salpeter’s first visit to Boston. To train for the hilly course, she left Israel for the more mountainous environs of her birth country, Kenya. It wasn’t the hills on the 26.2-mile course that were the problem, but the downhills, she explained. Another challenge was the New England springtime rain, which made for a puddle-filled day.
“I did not expect it to rain in the middle of the race – or in the beginning, either,” Chemtai Salpeter said.
Yet she was heartened by the fans who lined the route despite the weather.
“Boston is the best,” Chemtai Salpeter said. “Along the way, it was amazing. It was not good weather, but everybody came out. It was fantastic.”
And, she said, “I was prepared in any conditions,” calling herself “mentally ready if something happened.
It’s 42 kilometers. You never know what happens in the middle. It’s a long journey.”
Running in a black headband, white top, red shorts and pink sneakers, she was easy to recognize in an often-crowded front pack. Her time of 2:21:57 edged out Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh by three seconds for the podium finish. Yeshaneh stumbled and fell late in the race, but recovered to place fourth.
Asked about how she prevailed for third place, Chemtai Salpeter replied that she was thinking about her son, whom she had not been with for the past seven weeks.
“Then I said I could not lose, I needed to get to stand on the podium, he would be proud,” she said, adding that he called her afterward to express his pride.
Hellen Obiri of Kenya won and Amane Beriso of Ethiopia finished second.
Next up for Chemtai Salpeter is the world championships in Budapest, Hungary from Aug. 19 to 27.
“It’s not that far [off],” she said. “Now, it’s 120-something days. I’m going to rest for some weeks and start my journey to my next race.”
As noted at the Boston post-race press conference, her recent marathon performances have included multiple top-five finishes – a win in Tokyo in 2020, fifth place in London in 2021, a close second in New York last year and now third in Boston.
“It was not my first marathon, so I was feeling confident,” Chemtai Salpeter said at the press conference, “because I was not scared at all … I was running my own race.”
Born in Kenya, Chemtai Salpeter took up running in Israel after visiting the country in 2008. She found a job as a nanny for the family of the Kenyan ambassador to Israel before discovering her prowess in running. She is married to Israeli running coach Dan Salpeter. They live on a kibbutz with their son, who is in the third grade.
“When I’m in the race, I need to think about them,” she said of her husband and son. “If not for them, I could not be where I am.”
Chemtai Salpeter holds the Israeli national record in the marathon. She has represented Israel in two Olympic marathons – Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2021.
Heading into Boston, Chemtai Salpeter was coming off a strong 2022 that featured a second-place finish by just seven seconds in the TCS New York City Marathon, and a third place at the marathon world championships in Eugene, Ore.
This year’s Boston Marathon marked a decade since two terrorist bombs exploded at the finish line of the 2013 race, killing three people and wounding more than 260.
On a somber day, Salpeter turned in an inspiring performance. In the early miles, she alternated between ninth and tenth place, then moved up to third in a challenging field.
“I think it was the strongest field ever in Boston this year,” Chemtai Salpeter said.
In the final mile, though, it came down to four runners passing through Copley Square – Beriso, Obiri, Yeshaneh and Salpeter. Then came Yeshaneh’s fall and recovery, and a spirited battle for third place.
Men’s winner Evans Chebet of Kenya defended his 2022 title. The wheelchair winners were Marcel Hug of Switzerland for the men, and Susannah Scaroni of the US for the women.