BOSTON — With the top American marathoners resting for the Rio Olympics, Neely Spence Gracey could be the best U.S. hope for a podium finish in Boston on Monday.
Gracey, 26, of Superior, Colorado, is an eight-time NCAA Division II national champion who will be making her marathon debut.
But in a way, she has been a marathoner all her life.
Gracey is the daughter of 1991 world championship bronze medalist Steve Spence. Her father finished 19th — the No. 2 American overall — in the 1989 Boston Marathon, and Gracey was born on Patriots' Day in 1990 while her father was running the race.
"I grew up hearing all about that story," she said.
Gracey was planning to run in the Olympic trials in February but a problem with her left foot convinced her she wasn't ready. Instead, she was on track for Boston.
"I always knew once I started running competitively that I was going to be running Boston," she said. "But I didn't know it would be this soon."
Defending champions Lelisa Desisa and Caroline Rotich will lead the field of more than 30,000 runners across the start in Hopkinton on Monday morning for the 26.2-mile trek to Boston's Back Bay. Defending wheelchair champions Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden will also return.
But most of the top Americans will sit out the race, having run in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in February.
Here are some other things to look for in Monday's race:
After losing her left leg in the 2013 finish-line explosions, Adrianne Haslet decided that she would return to the course — this time as a runner. She will be one of 31 members of the One Fund community — survivors of the attacks, their families and supporters_in the field.
"A lot of people think about the finish line," she said. "I think about the start line."
Patrick Downes, a Boston College graduate who had his left leg amputated after the bombings, is also entered. Downes, 32, was a runner before the bombing, having completed the race in 2005 with his wife, who lost both legs in the attacks.
Haslet, 35, was a professional ballroom dancer who received a prosthetic blade to do the quickstep and the jive, and only then decided to take up running.
Haslet overcame a hip flexor injury while training; running with the blade also requires extra energy, because one leg is slightly longer than the other. She will run with a team of four people on behalf of the Oklahoma City-based Limbs for Life Foundation, which provides prosthetics for those who can't afford them.
"It was about finding another challenge, and finding a new day," she said. "There was a point in my life I wasn't a ballroom dancer, either."
50 YEARS OF WOMEN
The Boston Athletic Association is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon.
Bobbi Gibb sneaked onto the course in 1966 to break the race's gender barrier. She also ran the race in 1967-68 and has been recognized as a three-time winner in the "Unofficial Era." Race organizers said last week they would now acknowledge her accomplishments as part of the "Pioneer Era."
NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY
Organizers also took time in race week to recognize the 80th anniversary of Ellison "Tarzan" Brown's 1936 victory.
A member of the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island, Brown's 1936 victory is best remembered for the coining of the term "Heartbreak Hill." Defending champion Johnny Kelley tapped Brown on the back as he prepared to pass him, but Brown responded by accelerating into the Newton hills on his way to victory. He also won in 1939.
At the time, Native Americans were widely perceived as lazy, according to Mikki Wosencroft, who will serve as an honor runner for Brown this year.
"He broke a lot of barriers in the way Native Americans were perceived," Wosencroft said, "and he did it with ease."
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