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Meyer hopes to take a run at Roba

By Barbara Huebner, Globe Staff, 4/17/2000

lthough the spotlight in the women's race of the Boston Marathon has focused sharply on Fatuma Roba's bid to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive title, today is the day her opponents will try to nudge her off the stage.

''You don't win the Olympics and three Bostons without being a class athlete,'' said the woman who is perhaps her No. 1 challenger here, Elana Meyer. ''Hopefully, she can't do it for a fourth.''

Meyer, a 33-year-old South African who finished third here in 1994 and was runner-up in '95 and '97, has been the subject of much speculation in the days leading up to the Marathon. After 15 years with the same coach, Meyer - the 1992 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 meters and world-record holder at the half-marathon - recently switched to a coach with more experience at 26.2 miles. Longtime observers say she looks stronger than she has in the past, perhaps better prepared for the rigors she will face in the hills of Newton.

If she didn't feel she could end up on the victor's platform here, she wouldn't have come.

''Elana looks great,'' said Joan Benoit Samuelson. ''She's been the bridesmaid so many times. She keeps coming back because she really wants this.''

Also back is Catherine Ndereba of Kenya. In her debut at the distance here last year, Ndereba stuck with Roba through 17 miles before surviving to finish sixth, only to collapse of exhaustion and dehydration.

''I just wanted to be challenged, and that's exactly what happened,'' said Ndereba, 27. She rebounded to finish second last fall in the New York City Marathon, and pronounced herself pleased with her improvement. Virtually untouchable at shorter distances (ranked the top road racer in the world the last two years by Runner's World), Ndereba comes in with a half-marathon best of 1 hour 9 minutes 2 seconds, set this year, and should be a factor.

Boston rookie Lornah Kiplagat could create a stir. Gearing up for the race, the 25-year-old Kenyan ran an impressive 1:06:54 half-marathon, the fifth fastest in history, and her 2:25:30 personal best marathon trails only Roba and Meyer in today's field. Of the four marathons she has finished, she has won three (Amsterdam in 1999, Los Angeles in 1997 and '98).

Next on the depth chart with a 2:25:45 personal best is 21-year-old Sun Yingjie of China, vowing not to repeat her youthful mistake of last year when she blasted out of the starting blocks so fast that she led by almost a minute at 10 kilometers. She was finally caught by Roba and Ndereba just after the halfway point, which she passed on world-record pace, and dragged herself home in 11th place.

Joining her is 22-year-old countrywoman and training partner Ai Dongmei, who finished 19th here last year and hopes to qualify for China's Olympic team, to which Sun already has been named.

With little time to recover from late February's Olympic Trials, there are no top Americans here, and last year's top American finisher, Lynn Jennings of Newmarket, N.H., has opted to concentrate on training for the 10,000 meters. The fastest US woman in the field is Marcia Narloch of Tampa, whose best time is 2:37:11.

Regardless of the competition, Roba, 26, remains the woman to beat. ''She's got the momentum of victory, and you can't override that,'' said Kathrine Switzer. Last month, she demolished the field at the Kyoto City Half Marathon with a 1:10:16 victory, and appears as fit as ever. She has no reason to fear either Boston's legendary hills or her competition, having dispatched both with aplomb the past three years. She'll have plenty of support on the course from the 10,000 or so Ethiopians living in Massachusetts, many of whom will exuberantly greet their heroine with flags and cheers.

''Ethiopians living in the Boston area are very much prepared for her win,'' said Roba's translator from Cambridge, Telahn Gebrehiwot.

She gives no indication they will be disappointed.

This story ran on page E8 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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