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Champs Lee, Ndereba returning to Boston

By John Powers, Globe Staff, 3/8/2002

Lee Bong Ju of South Korea and Catherine "The Great" Ndereba of Kenya will return next month to defend their titles at the 106th running of the Boston Marathon, sponsor John Hancock announced yesterday.

Lee, who was the first Korean winner of the 26.2-mile race in 51 years, broke Kenya's 10-year hammerlock on the men's crown. Ndereba, who was the first Kenyan woman to win here in 2000, will be bidding for her third straight victory.

The 31-year-old Lee, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who finished 11th in his only other Boston appearance, became a national hero after breaking away from the pack to finish ahead of Ecuador's Silvio Guerra and Kenya's Joshua Chelanga.

When he returned to Seoul, Lee displayed his laurel wreath and medal at the grave of his father, Haeku, who died of cancer a month before the race. "I feel good in Boston," Lee said, "just like in my hometown."

The 29-year-old Ndereba, the fastest female marathoner in history, has claimed two BAA crowns in just three appearances and is the only woman to win both the Boston and Chicago races in consecutive years.

Last April, Ndereba shook former champion Fatuma Roba in the Newton hills, ran the final 6 miles alone, and went on to set a second-half course record (70:51) en route to her 2:23.53 finish.

Then in October, just a week after Japan's Naoko Takahashi splintered the 2:20 barrier with a 2:19:46 effort in Berlin, Ndereba posted a stunning 2:18:47 in Chicago.

The remainder of the elite field will be announced the first week of April.

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