Recent marathon champions
Year Winner Time
2016 Kipkoech Ruto 2:17.27
2015 Stephen Njoroge 2:15.19
2014 Gebo Gameda 2:16.30
2013 James Kirwa 2:13.27
2012 James Kirwa 2:14.09
2011 Jeffrey Eggleston 2:16.40
2016 H. Ayantu Dakebo 2:39.18
2015 Clara Santucci 2:34.06
2014 Clara Santucci 2:32.25
2013 Y. Bekele Delelecha 2:41.30
2012 Malika Mejdoub 2:29.31
2011 Y. Bekele Delelecha 2:35.36
Phebe Ko heard her twin sister Mindy call out at the 17-mile marker that she was in third place and the first American among the women running the Pittsburgh Marathon.
That gave the anesthesiologist from San Francisco a mental boost as she approached the final stage of the 26.2-mile race.
“I got a little surge there, an adrenaline rush,” said Ko, 33. “I knew if I could not hit the wall and finish strong, I had it.”
For Ko and her male counterpart, Tyler Jermann, being the first Americans to finish the Pittsburgh Marathon was as important as placing third.
That Ko and Jermann were the first Americans on Sunday to cross the finish line on the Boulevard of the Allies meant they also earned a purse greater than the respective winners.
Not only did Ko and Jermann win $4,000 checks for third place but another $4,500 for being the fastest Americans, per the American Development Program.
“I love this marathon because they really cater to Americans,” said Ko, who finished second at Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 and ’10 before attending medical school at Johns Hopkins. “They go above and beyond. It was a no-brainer for me to come here.”
The program, which began two years ago, is an attempt to establish the Pittsburgh Marathon as the launching pad for pro runners and Olympic hopefuls.
It also makes this race one filled with incentives for American-born runners to chase down the Ethiopians and Kenyans who have dominated the sport.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize and support Americans,” P3R CEO and race director Patrice Matamoros said. “We’re looking at a generation of runners who can make an impact. It adds integrity to what we do.
“Over 1,000 marathons are held in the U.S., and only a few have a dedicated program to reward distance athletes. If you invest in the athletes, you can make changes to the industry.”
Consider: The last American-born runner to win the Pittsburgh Marathon was Jeffrey Eggleston, who did so almost by accident in 2011. He was hired to be the rabbit — a pace-setter for Olympic hopefuls — but set too fast of a pace and cruised to victory. Like Eggleston, Jermann, 23, trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., and studied Eggleston’s race strategy.
Jermann started slowly, picked up his pace and passed everyone except winner Kipkoech Ruto (2 hours, 17 minutes, 27 seconds) and second-place Werkuhah Aboye Seyoum (2:18:42). Jermann finished in 2:20:38.
“The idea is to put America back on the map,” said Jermann, inspired by Meb Keflezighi, who in 2014 became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983. “Race after race, you see Americans finishing in the top 10 or top five now.
“These guys can go out fast and hold on. I’ve got to go out slow and try to pick ’em off. If you’re not there with the pack, you’re not going to have a shot.”
After running collegiately at Duke and attending med school, Ko practically went coast-to-coast by flying here from San Francisco.
This was her 11th marathon. That her best finishes have come in Pittsburgh is no coincidence. Ko twice has twice qualified for the Olympic Trials, and wants to use the Pittsburgh Marathon as a launching point for 2020.
Which is perfectly fine with Pittsburgh Marathon organizers.
“We’re the place where stars are discovered,” Matamoros said, noting Eggleston has two top-12 finishes in Boston. “When they get to be big names, we want to be part of their journey.”
As soon as Jermann and Ko crossed the finish line, Matamoros draped an American flag over their shoulders.
“I never got a flag before after a race,” Jermann said. “I’ll wear this all day.”
If the Pittsburgh Marathon had its way, Jermann would wear Old Glory forever while bringing new glory to the race where he was the first American to finish.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.