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Boston Marathon Course section


Boston street smarts

Kenyan dominance hasn't run its course

By Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe Staff, 4/22/2003


Road rave
Zakharova takes women's title
Boston street smarts
Kimutai got over the hump
Runyan fifth after battle
Denisova knew her place: 2d
Hellebuyck leads the way
Ripp, Van Dyk: Spin control
Russian contingent was rushin'
Wellesley voices carry
Heart, sole are put to the test
Hopkinton's just the beginning
Pushing the human body
Up-close view for this father
Girl OK after wheelchair collision
In the running

R. Cheruiyot 2:10:11
Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai 2:10:34
Martin Lel 2:11:11
Timothy Cherigat 2:11:28
Christopher Cheboiboch 2:12:45
Fedor V. Ryzhov 2:15:29
Rodgers Rop 2:16:14
David Kiptum Busienei 2:16:16
Elly K. Rono 2:17:00
Eddy Hellebuyck 2:17:18
| Men's Top 25 |

Svetlana Zakharova 2:25:20
Lyubov Denisova 2:26:51
Joyce Chepchumba 2:27:20
Margaret Okaya 2:27:39
Marla Runyan 2:30:28
Albina Ivanova 2:30:57
Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova 2:31:30
Milena Glusac 2:37:32
Jill Gaitenby 2:38:19
Esther Kiplagat 2:38:43
| Women's Top 25 |

Ernst F. Van Dyk1:28:32
Krige Schabort1:30:07
Kelly Smith 1:30:52
| Complete list (men & women) |

Christina Ripp1:54:47
Cheri A. Blauwet1:54:57
Edith Hunkeler1:56:54
| Complete list (men & women) |

Search BAA database of all finishers

It was somewhere around the 10- or 15-kilometer mark, with all those reed-thin Kenyan guys looking as if they hadn't yet even exhaled, never mind break a sweat, that the thought crossed my mind. Can't someone from around here do that?

Nothing against the Kenyans, of course. The Boston Marathon is open to the world, and right now, Kenya essentially has annexed the 26.2-mile asphalt swath that once belonged to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. One day a year, we line up by the thousands to wax nostalgic over the land that once was ours, and hope to catch a glimpse of the comet-like pack of equatorial runners as they renew their eminent domain claim on Boylston Street.

As sure as we know Tchaikovsky's ''1812 Overture'' will make the church bells peal here every July 4, we have been conditioned to hum along to the Kenyan national anthem each and every Patriots Day. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, a 25-year-old businessman (occupation: running, fast, effortlessly) ran off with the show yesterday, in a rather pedestrian 2:10:11, a time that no doubt as a child in Kenya would have kept him late at school, writing on the chalkboard, ''Thou shalt not loiter . . . Thou shalt not loiter . . . Thou shalt not loiter.''

''People were saying, `Kenya, Kenya, Kenya,' '' said a smiling Cheruiyot, asked after the race if stretches of our roads began to feel like home after a while. ''Even the children. That was nice.''

Isn't that just dandy? We're so accommodating, aren't we? Heck, it's been 20 years since a Bay Stater (Greg Meyer, 2:09:00) won the Boston Marathon. Kenyans have won the men's division in 12 of the last 13 Bostons, and now we even root 'em on as if they were born to run here in the Hub of the Universe. Johnny Kelley, save us.

There are, by one expert's count, upward of 15 elite marathon training camps in Kenya, and the bet here is that each day begins with a classroom session in which all runners, blindfolded, must stick a red pin on Hopkinton on a map of the US, then spell ''Boylston Street'' backward, three times fast, and finally name each stop on the Riverside Green Line (extra credit for stops after Boylston). The hard stuff done for the day, they then go out and limber up with a 20-mile sprint.

The obvious thing to do here, folks, is to reach in our pockets and get one of our own to Nairobi. It's the only answer. We take a guy from Canton or Swampscott or Chelmsford, back him with our Bay State bucks, and get him to beat the dirt roads and rolling hills in Kenya, with an eye on coming home one day to win our race.

''It's a matter of how you prepare,'' said Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai, who finished second to Cheruiyot and just happens to be from -- you guessed it -- Kenya. For the record, Kimutai dismissed the suggestion here that no one other than a Kenyan ever will win Boston again. ''It's a matter of, how prepared are you mentally and physically?

''It can't be always Kenyans.''

Maybe not, but everywhere I look, I see Kenyans. They went 1-2-3-4-5 in the men's division in yesterday's 107th running. Fedor Ryzhov, a Russian, slipped in at No. 6, and Kenyans slotted into four of the next five spots. On the women's side, Kenyans finished third (Joyce Chepchumba) and fourth (Margaret Okayo). If we were operating under Las Vegas casino rules, they'd all be accused of card counting and summarily sent skittering out onto the Strip.

Dr. Gabriele Rosa is an Italian-born trainer who had no fewer than a half-dozen Kenyans, including Cheruiyot, in yesterday's race. Asked the root of Kenyan superiority, the good doctor talked a bit about ''genetic mix and selection'' and how Kenyans at large ''discovered'' marathon running only 10-12 years ago. Once they found it, they liked it, for reasons including fame and fortune, and now marathon camps around the country keep feeding champs and elite wannabes into the mainstream at about the rate that Toyota punches out Camrys.

''They stay in these camps eight, nine months of the year,'' said Rosa. ''There is a lot of discipline. They can train, recover, eat the right foods. They push each other. This kind of life helps to make strong runners.''

For us to put a local back in the winner's circle wouldn't necessarily mean having him train in Kenya, said Rosa. Kenyan food is plentiful and nutritious, he pointed out, but also very simple. Living conditions in the marathon camps, he added, can be spartan.

''Sometimes there is no water,'' said Rosa. ''So if they want to take a shower . . .''

He added that when there is water, there often isn't plumbing. Showering mandates that the buddy system be employed. One runner hoists the bucket of water, the other runner rinses off, at arm's length.

It was right about then that the idea hit me. No way will someone around here go for something like that. All you guys from Canton, Swampscott, and Chelmsford, good luck to you.

Not to worry, said Rosa. Kenyan runners work at altitude. Nairobi is about a mile high, the Kenyan equivalent of Denver. A Bostonian with the idea of being Best in Boston, he said, could head west and work his way into the race from right here on our own continent.

''It's not true that it's impossible,'' said Rosa, musing over the suggestion that we've been shut out of our own race. ''But when you run in Kenya, when you run to be a marathon runner, you make a choice: You want to be a full-time marathon runner.''

In Kenya 2003, all roads lead to Boston. It owns our streets. Three hundred sixty-four days a year, we keep those streets alternately warm, plowed, sanded, salted, and oh so welcoming. Perhaps to a fault.

This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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