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Boston Marathon Course section

Road rave

Cheruiyot at head of the Kenyan class

By John Powers, 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

All the way down Beacon Street, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot kept glancing anxiously over his shoulder, as if he were being chased by the Headless Horseman or the ghost of Clarence DeMar. ''I was looking for my friend,'' the winner of the 107th Boston Marathon said, after he'd run away from Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai and more than 17,000 other panting pursuers yesterday afternoon. ''I was expecting him to be behind me.''

The 24-year-old Cheruiyot, the youngest Boston victor since countryman Cosmas Ndeti in 1994, figured at least a couple of his Kenyan homeboys would give him a footrace for the last few miles. But after he left them legless going up Heartbreak Hill, the rest of the challengers might as well have stopped at Boston College for a keg party.

''It is very nice to win this marathon, because you make your name in your country,'' declared the farm and supermarket owner from Nandi District, after he had prevailed by a comfortable 23 seconds in 2:10:11, collecting the $80,000 paycheck while leading a Kenyan sweep of the first five places with Kimutai (2:10:34), Martin Lel (2:11:11), Timothy Cherigat (2:11:28) and Christopher Cheboiboch (2:12:45).

It was the 12th time in 13 Aprils that a Kenyan had captured the 26-mile Hopkinton-to-Boston ramble, and from the time the nine-man lead group had passed through the midway point at Wellesley, it was merely a question of which of them would win what has become an intramural championship.

For a while Rodgers Rop, who'd hoped to become the first champion to repeat since Ndeti in 1995, thought he might be the man. But by the time he reached Newton Lower Falls, where he'd broken up the pack last year, his muscles were tightening and Rop sensed he was done. ''I don't know what happened,'' he shrugged, after ending up seventh, more than six minutes behind the victor.

Neither did countryman Vincent Kipsos, who was on course-record pace for the first 10 miles, leading by as much as 80 meters, then felt the day turn warm and windy and bailed out just after the half-marathon mark. ''I can see I am going to run a poor time,'' said Kipsos, whose personal best of 2:06:52 was tops in the field. ''So I decide to leave.''

Once the dead wind turned into a headwind and the temperature, predicted to be around 60, soared to 70, it became a survival test. Cheruiyot's winning time, the slowest since Lameck Aguta's 2:10:34 in 1997, was only the 57th-fastest in race history. Even so, the spread between first and 10th places was a whopping seven minutes, the largest since 1989.

It was a day when even an over-40 masters runner could be a contender, and two actually were: Russia's Fedor Ryzhov placed sixth and Eddy Hellebuyck, the top American finisher, was 10th.

When the Kenyans looked around and saw the 42-year-old Hellebuyck among them as they were coming through Natick, they knew it could be anybody's day. ''The race started after the halfway mark,'' said Kimutai. ''Then it was everyone for himself.''

By the time they headed into the Newton hills, the pack was down to six: Kimutai, Rop, Cheruiyot, Lel, Cherigat, and Cheboiboch. But Cheruiyot, who'd won his only other marathon outing (2:08:59) last December in Milan, had decided well before the firehouse turn that the laurel wreath was his. ''When I was at 25 kilometers I said, `OK, I will win this,' '' Cheruiyot said.

He began his push near the base of Heartbreak Hill, daring the other contenders to bust their lungs to stay with him. Then, with 5 miles to go, Cheruiyot went for broke. He threw in a staggering 4:37 mile coming down the other side, opening a 30-meter lead over Kimutai going through the ''Haunted Mile,'' the cemetery stretch before Cleveland Circle.

Had anybody still been within shouting range, Cheruiyot was ready for a fight to the finish. ''If somebody goes in front of me, I am ready to defend and be with him,'' he said.

As Cheruiyot loped through the Brookline flats, he kept glancing over his shoulder, waiting for Kimutai's challenge. It never came. ''I had nothing to offer,'' shrugged Kimutai, who admitted conceding the race with 2 miles to go. ''I could see he was 100 meters from me. So I was thinking, `Let me keep my position.' ''

By the time he reached Kenmore Square, with only the escort motorcycle behind him, Cheruiyot was already flashing the V sign to spectators. From there to the end, it was a victory trot through the Back Bay, as he joined the parade of Tanuis and Ndetis and Husseins who've preceded him ever since his countrymen began coming here for the holiday in 1988.

Except for the Korean KO administered by Lee Bong Ju two years ago, the Kenyans have made the Boston Athletic Association's springtime frolic into a rite of passage for their aspiring road racers. Win here, and you no longer need to carry two forms of ID back in Nairobi.

''I was known because I won Milan,'' Cheruiyot observed. ''This makes my name bigger.''

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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