NEW: Boston Cheers Goucher

Kara Goucher showed initiative near the end of Monday’s 113th Boston Marathon, taking the lead when no one else would. She moved ahead with five miles to go and hoped the fervent crowds at the finish would push her to victory.

It nearly happened, but in the closing meters along Commonwealth Avenue, two others used the inspiration to pull away. Kenya’s Salina Kosgei, 32, earned the women’s title by one second over defending champion Dire Tune of Ethiopia, winning in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 16 seconds for 26.2 miles to earn $150,000. Tune, 23, was runner up in 2:32:17 and made $75,000. It was the closest women’s finish in race history.

Goucher, 30, who was raised in Duluth and lives in Portland, Ore., finished third in her Boston debut in 2:32:17, nine seconds back, for $40,000. It was the best finish by an American woman since Kim Jones was second in 1993.

“I felt great and started to press and thought I had another gear, and they had more,” Goucher said at a post-race press conference. “I wasn’t going to give up. I usually have a good kick. It thought it was going to there.”

The world’s oldest marathon, with estimated crowds of more than two million on Patriot’s Day in New England, was the classic road racing experience Goucher anticipated. Her mother, Patty Wheeler, and older sister, Kelly Grgas-Wheeler, both of Duluth, and younger sister, Kendall Schoolmeester of Portland were at the finish line to soak in the atmosphere of the sprint to the finish.

A much slower than anticipated pace for the first 20 miles on a 40-degree morning led to the slowest winning women’s time since 1980, but the final miles were dramatic. The elite women raced alone, starting 28 minutes ahead of the men.

“We knew that nothing but winning would make Kara happy. She wanted that so badly, to have an American win here, and that was driving her,” said Grgas-Wheeler, a Minnesota Duluth assistant soccer coach and women’s hockey sports information director. “She told us afterward that she didn’t run a marathon, she raced five miles. She wasn’t that tried at all and just wishes she could run that last mile again.”

There were 17 women in a lead pack halfway through the race and still eight together with five miles remaining, heading downhill after Heartbreak Hill. It was time to push, push, push and Goucher gained an advantage, but never more than a few yards.

In Goucher’s only other race at the distance, she was third in the 2008 New York City Marathon in 2:25:53. Kosgei has run 2:23:22 and Tune 2:24:40.

“The plan Kara and [coach] Alberto [Salazar] had was to wait until the end and kick, but with eight runners still together, she felt she didn’t have any other choice,” said Wheeler. “They needed to drop some of those runners.

“The support you heard for Kara at the finish line was amazing. The people there cheer for everyone, but there was such a fever for an American to win here.”

Goucher, a 2008 track Olympian, had sprained her right wrist before the race and wore football gloves so that she’d be able to grip water bottles at aid stations along the route. With 800 meters remaining, she threw the gloves off as Kosgei moved ahead. Kosgei, 10th in the 2008 Summer Olympics marathon, and Tune exchanged the lead a couple of times before a deciding surge.

Goucher family members shouted at the finish wearing sweatshirts which read “Go Kara.” Goucher’s husband, Adam, a former U.S. track Olympian, put a blanket around her after the race and offered encouragement.

“There was a lot of buildup for Kara coming into the race and she legitimized the talk because she was right there at the end racing for the win,” said Schoolmeester. “Everyone was pulling so hard for her and she had nothing left at the end. It was heartbreaking. Third place is bittersweet for someone who wanted so badly to win.”

American Ryan Hall of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., was also third in the men’s race in 2:09:40, marking the first time in 24 years at Boston that Americans were in the top three in the women’s and men’s competition. Both received standing ovations at the afternoon awards ceremony at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel’s Grand Ballroom.

Goucher said before the race that she’ll now take time to start a family, yet plans to return to racing in time to compete for a spot on the U.S. women’s marathon team for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“It was a great race, and she ran a great race,” former Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson told the Boston Globe about Goucher. “And she made the race. She really pushed it when it needed to be pushed. She got them back on pace.”

“What she proved today was that she has the wheels,” long-time Boston running coach Bill Squires told the Globe. “I was very impressed. She is still a marathon rookie. You need experience to run Boston, with its rolling terrain. This is the toughest course in the world, no doubt.”