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2014 Boston Marathon winner finally gets prize money, from a stranger: ‘We cried’



2014 Boston Marathon winner finally gets prize money, from a stranger: 'We cried'

Ten years and a month after Buzunesh Deba finished as the deserving winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, she finally got the prize money she never received — but it didn’t come from the Boston Athletic Association.

Rather, it came from a stranger.

When Deba crossed the finish line at Boylston Street in 2014, she received no international praise, the ceremonial gold wreath or the $100,000 purse ($75,000 for winning plus $25,000 for breaking the course record). Instead, that honor and win went to Rita Jeptoo, who crossed the finish line first that year but had her win stripped by the BAA in 2016 after a failed drugs test.

Deba finished just over a minute behind Jeptoo that day and took second place, but her time of 2:19:59 still broke the previous course record set by Margaret Okayo in 2002.

But although Deba’s name replaced Jeptoo’s in the history books after the failed test, the money never appeared in Deba’s bank account.

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Despite Jeptoo’s record being expunged and her name tarnished, her winnings have never been recovered. Similar cases occurred at the Chicago Marathon, where Liliya Shobukhova won the race three times for a total of $265,000 before she was caught doping. As with Jeptoo, no money was ever recovered from Shobukhova.

That is until Doug Guyer gave her the money out of his own pocket. Guyer, a Philadelphia businessman, personally paid Deba $75,000 after reading an article in The Wall Street Journal in April that said she never received her winnings.

“We cried. I called my mother to tell her and she was so happy,” Deba said The Athletics in an email.

Deba, who has competed internationally for Ethiopia, is based in the Bronx, NY, with her husband and two children.

She found success at the 2014 New York City Marathon, where she finished ninth, and returned to Boston in 2015, where she finished third.

But for Deba, that 2014 victory remains the highlight of her career. And those profits were desperately needed by her family.

“It means so much. This allows me to train again. We have no sponsor. We have to pay for everything,” she said. “And I have two children. The money goes to my education and my family. We are so grateful. We waited so long for this and almost gave up. God bless Mr. Doug.”

Guyer, who played football at Boston College and was knocked out of the starting quarterback spot by Doug Flutie in 1981, told the Boston Globe, “It was about righting a wrong that has been wrong for a decade.”

Guyer said he would consider sending the $25,000 course record bonus if the BAA doesn’t.

The BAA said in a statement that it is pursuing “the recovery of prize money from Rita Jeptoo” and plans to pay Deba her winnings when the association receives them. The organization says it is supported by the policy of World Athletics and supported by the World Marathon Majors.

“The BAA is still pursuing Ms Jeptoo to recover the prize money for Ms Deba, which the BAA believes would be a just and fair outcome for her and all runners who follow the rules,” a BAA spokesperson said.

Deba said she was skeptical of Jeptoo’s performance from the day of the 2014 race, and wondered why Jeptoo wasn’t tired when she crossed the finish line.

Deba looks over her shoulder at the home stretch of Boylston Street during the 2014 Boston Marathon. (Photo: Dina Rudick / Getty Images)

But when Deba was told she was the winner in 2016, she couldn’t believe it.

“I was in my apartment and I was jumping up and down. It was my biggest victory,” she said. “I was not only champion, but also course record holder.”

Despite waiting a decade for her real win, Deba said she has never been bitter towards the BAA. Instead, she views the organization as “family.”

While she made her story public in April, in the weeks before the 10th anniversary of her victory, she hesitated for years to share it in this way because she trusted the BAA to do right by her. She also feared that if she said anything, she would not be invited to the prestigious race.

“This started when my friend came to my apartment, looked at my second-place trophy and asked, ‘What is this? Where’s your real trophy?’ I told her they never sent me one,” Deba said. “She was so angry with me. We wrote them and eventually I got my medals. Then they asked me to come to a celebration for the 10th anniversary of the winners. She told me to see what they planned to do with the money.

In response to The Wall Street Journal’s story, fans around the world came to Deba’s defense, with many even willing to crowdfund her winnings.

“I am so grateful that so many people are behind me,” Deba said. “It’s important that people know how hard I worked to win. This is my job. I didn’t beg for something that wasn’t mine. A lot went into the victory and I’m happy to see that the community agrees with me.”

Only after the April article was published did the BAA respond about its attempt to advance its case, Deba said.

And yet that doesn’t diminish her admiration for the race, or even stop her from wanting to return to the most famous marathon in the world.

“It’s still my dream to come back and not only run Boston, but win,” she said.

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(Photo: John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)