Africans win Boston Marathon hours before tragic bombings

Kenyan runner Rita Jeptoo collapses from exhaustion after winning Monday’s women’s division of the Boston Marathon.

Kenyan runner Rita Jeptoo collapses from exhaustion after winning Monday’s women’s division of the Boston Marathon.

BOSTON — Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the men’s and women’s Boston Marathon on Monday, continuing African runners’ dominance in the sport.

But then tragedy struck around two hours after they finished as two bombs exploded near the finish line, leaving at least three dead and 141 injured.

American runner Shalane Flanagan, who finished fourth in the race, told ESPN that the explosions were “devastating.”

“It’s supposed to be something that unites people and brings them together,” Flanagan said. “It’s a celebration of heroes, a celebration of people’s achievements and dedication. It’s overall an unbelievable, positive event that inspires so many people. This will surely taint it in a really sad way. It’s pretty devastating that this happened.”

About 17,000 runners had finished the race when the bombs exploded, but thousands were still on the course.

The race wasn’t the only sporting event in Boston affected by the tragedy.

Monday’s hockey game between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators and today’s NBA game between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers were both cancelled.

In baseball, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays early Monday afternoon with the final out coming about 30 minutes before the first explosion.

Desisa and Jeptoo had been crowned winners of the race and addressed reporters long before the explosions and talked about the strength of the African runners.

“It was more of a tactical race, the Ethiopians versus the Kenyans,” said Kenyan Wesley Korir, who won the 2012 Boston Marathon and finished fifth Monday. “Those guys were not fighting for time or anything, they were just racing to beat each other.”

Desisa finished in an official two hours, 10 minutes and 22 seconds, besting countryman Gebregziabher Gebremariam and Kenya’s Micah Kogo in a finishing sprint.

Jeptoo closed up in an official two hours, 26 minutes and 25 seconds, crossing the finish line more than 30 seconds ahead of her nearest challenger, Meseret Hailu of Ethiopia.

Americans took fourth place in both races, with Jason Hartmann and Shalane Flanagan finishing just off the podium. No American has won since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985.

Hartmann, who also placed fourth in last year’s race, took an early lead before being reeled in by a large pack of runners at the halfway mark.

After that he held back and did not try to match every move of the leaders, he said.

“The last five miles is where you can determine whether you run good or not,” Hartmann said.

At 23 years old, Desisa is a relative newcomer to the sport, though earlier this year he won the Dubai marathon in a time almost six minutes faster than Monday’s pace, which stands as his personal best.

Jeptoo, Hailu and third place women’s finisher Sharon Cherup of Kenya ran a carefully paced race, holding back for most of the 26.2 miles as first Colombia’s Yolanda Caballero and later Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix took early leads.

Felix pushed as far as 90 seconds ahead of most of the top women before Jeptoo and other chasers ran her down in the 24th mile of the 117th running of the race.

Jeptoo’s victory marked her second win at Boston. Her first came in 2006 — a race she almost missed the start of due to passport problems.

HOCKEY POSTPONED: “Game is off. Our best to everyone affected, please be safe.”

That tweet came from Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference after his team called off Monday night’s game with the Ottawa Senators following the explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The Senators had just arrived at TD Garden by bus and the Bruins players were also on hand when the game was canceled.

“After consultation with city, state and NHL officials we collectively made the decision to postpone tonight’s game,” Bruins president Cam Neely said in a statement. “Public safety personnel from the city and state are still gathering information regarding today’s events and it is vital they have all resources available for their investigation.

“The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the Bruins organization are with the city of Boston and all those affected by today’s tragedy.”

The NHL release read, “The National Hockey League wishes to express its sympathy to all affected by the tragic events that took place in Boston earlier this afternoon.”

The players were not made available but Bruins captain Zdeno Chara also took to Twitter, saying, “Some people make me sick, RIP to all the bombing victims in Boston. #PrayForBoston.”

Tweeted Tyler Seguin, before more details emerged: “Hope this was just a horrible accident. Prayers to everyone around the area that they are okay.”

Re-scheduling this game could be a problem. The Bruins are playing every other day the rest of the regular season, and a team can’t play three days in a row. With both teams ending their seasons Saturday, April 27, both could be available to play the next day or night.

“The game will be rescheduled,” said a release from the Bruins front office. “The date and time will be announced at a later date. The National Hockey League wishes to express its sympathy to all affected by the tragic events that took place in Boston earlier this afternoon.”

Earlier, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who has missed the last two weeks with his fourth concussion, pronounced himself ready to play.

‘’The final decision’s not mine, but I feel I can play tonight,’’ he said after the morning skate.”

Winger Brad Marchand, skating for a second straight day, has yet to be cleared for contact. He was injured last Wednesday night in New Jersey.

The Senators left TD Garden soon after the cancellation and return home to face the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night. Monday night was supposed to be the first of four straight home games for the Bruins, who host the Buffalo Sabres Wednesda