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Subplots abound in 105th edition

By Barbara Huebner, Globe Staff, 4/16/2001

t high noon today, the 105th Boston Marathon will begin, when 15,641 runners start the 26.2-mile trek from the town green in Hopkinton to Copley Square in Boston. Alongside the energy gel and ibuprofen tucked in their pockets, each carries a story of long training runs in miserable weather, of movies and ballgames and family time sacrificed to speed workouts, of blisters and chafing and personal triumph.

But only a few carry the hope of winning.

The subplots look like this:

  • Will anyone halt the 10-year winning streak of the Kenyan men?

  • Will this be the closest finish in history for the top three women?

  • Will American men break into the top 10? Or the top five?

    ''Before the start of the race, you know nothing,'' said two-time champion Moses Tanui of Kenya, who at 35 has seen it all.

    We know this: Today marks the first time since 1949 that three past champions will toe the line in Hopkinton while still in their prime. Tanui (1996, 1998) is again among the favorites, and will be joined by fellow Kenyans Elijah Lagat (2000) and Joseph Chebet (1999).

    Look for Ethiopia's Gezahegne Abera to break up the party. Last year, Abera was part of the closest three-way finish in race history, when Lagat outsprinted Abera and Tanui down Boylston Street to win in 2 hours 9 minutes 47 seconds. Abera was assigned the identical time as runner-up, and Tanui came in just three seconds back. The 22-year-old Abera went on to one heck of a consolation prize, though, when he won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney last fall. This week, he has sounded confident of victory.

    ''According to the way he is talking to the press, I think it will be a very tough race,'' said Lagat after being presented Saturday with bib No. 1 as defending champion.

    ''But you know, action speaks louder than words.''

    Should Abera emerge victorious, he would be only the second Olympic gold medalist to win the men's race in Boston. Gelindo Bordin, who took gold in 1988, won here in 1990. But he will have to get through Lagat, who believes people view his win last year as a fluke and desperately wants to prove them wrong.

    Bong-Ju Lee of Korea, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist, is also a contender, and there are a couple of intriguing dark horses: Mbarek Hussein, brother of three-time winner Ibrahim Hussein, who in 1988 became the first Kenyan to win here; and Abebe Gezahegne Yimer, who trains with Abera and whose personal best of 2:17:40 looks pretty tame until you realize it was run at an altitude of 7,200 feet.

    On the women's side, it looks to be a fast three-way race among defending champion Catherine Ndereba (2:21:33 personal best), fellow Kenyan Lornah Kiplagat (2:22:36), and three-time winner Fatuma Roba (2:23:21) of Ethiopia. In ideal conditions, Uta Pippig's course record of 2:21:45 in 1994 would be in jeopardy. Although the temperatures look good, 50s at the start and 40s at the finish, a headwind from the northeast is predicted to slow the elites coming down Beacon Street in Brookline.

    Ndereba, the first Kenyan woman to wear the laurel wreath, became the fourth-fastest woman in history last fall in Chicago; Kiplagat - running on a bum leg - wasn't far behind. Add to that the determination of Roba, who won three straight from 1997-1999, to reclaim the title Ndereba took from her. All three are running faster than ever at the half-marathon distance.

    ''I think it will take a 2:23 or better to win,'' said Joan Benoit Samuelson, whose wink made it clear that an even faster time wouldn't catch her by surprise. Only two women - Pippig and Samuelson (2:22:43) - have broken 2:23 on the course.

    Then there are the American men. For the first time in recent memory, there are almost as many top US men here as there are Kenyans. And while it's true the top American, David Morris (2:09:32), brings in only the seventh-fastest time, the US contingent should have depth enough to put an American man in the top 10 for the first time since Bob Kempainen finished seventh in 1994.

    The US also will be represented by Rod De Haven, Mark Coogan, and Scott Larson, the first-, third-, and fourth-place finishers at last year's Olympic Trials; Josh Cox, a 25-year-old who shaved six minutes off his personal best to finish 10th at Chicago last fall; Todd Reeser, 27, who has shown he can run with the Kenyans in the half-marathon; and Eddy Hellebuyck, who since recently turning 40 has set masters records at the shorter distances and has a good shot at both the masters title and open-division money, which goes 15 deep.

    If Cox, a Brad Pitt-lookalike from southern California, can run the 2:10 he's been talking about this week, it would almost certainly put him in the top five, where an American hasn't been since Dave Gordon in 1987.

    This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2001.
    © Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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