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It'll be teeming with teamwork

Kenyans are at forefront

By Joe Concannon, Globe Staff, 04/19/99

he 103d Boston Marathon begins today at high noon by the village green in Hopkinton and winds its way through eight cities and towns to the finish line on Boylston Street in the Back Bay. This is the final Boston of the 1900s, the world's oldest continuing marathon enters its third century next year, and all is right with the race.

Ever since John Hancock Mutual Life began pouring its millions into the coffers 14 years ago, the race was revitalized on the international stage, and after a weekend that saw Rotterdam and London pass quietly into the history books, Boston takes center stage on this Patriots Day. Hancock's investment is $1.2 million, plus staff, and extras to the cities and towns.

With Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco winning yesterday's men's race in London in 2 hours 7 minutes 57 seconds and Japhet Kosgei of Kenya taking Rotterdam in 2:07:11, and Tegla Loroupe of Kenya claiming the women's race in Rotterdam in 2:22:50 and Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya winning London in a course-record 2:23:22, times are on the table, and now it is in the hands of Boston defenders Moses Tanui of Kenya and Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia today.

Dave D'Alessandro, the president and CEO of John Hancock who stepped to the fore to provide the major sponsorship, sees the congested weekend in the proper light. ''London and Rotterdam always hurt us,'' said D'Alessandro. ''Yet we're in a cycle now where there are a lot of emerging names. I think we're in a cycle now where it's really interesting. I think we're about to see new stars as we prepare for the Olympics.''

The dominant presence of the Kenyans is recognized every year on the eve of Boston, and there are eight elite runners in the field out of the African nation led by defender and two-time winner Tanui and two-time New York City Marathon champion John Kagwe. In a Globe poll of media members, Tanui received six votes to win and Kagwe five. Joseph Chebet, who was second in Boston and New York last year by three seconds, received three votes and Sammy Korir two. Vanderlei Lima of Brazil earned the remaining first-place vote.

''The Kenyans as a team are the strongest in the world,'' said D'Alessandro, ''and the Northern Europeans can't decide whether or not they want to run against them. The problem is that the Kenyans tend to be unpredictably strong; some runners' fear is they don't want to run in a pack against the Kenyans. It is difficult for a single runner to come here and run against the deeper teams.

''It's pretty lonely when you're running against eight strong Kenyans. I'm not going to run against eight or 10 guys from the same country, all of whom are capable of perhaps winning or finishing in the top three. They're going to strategically try to break me. They worry about each other later. They say, `Let's break this guy now.' Teams will run together, and the Kenyans will run and worry about beating each other later.

''They've also built up a strong relationship with this marathon. I would not be in favor of trying to load up a race. The BAA has been great at this. They haven't tried through prize and appearance money to balance the race. They haven't said, `This is an American race.' They've said, `Here's the prize money. You guys decide.' This may be one of the best events in that respect. It does have a down side, when you have only deep teams from countries that are hard to run against.''

The prohibitive favorite in the women's race is Olympic gold medalist and two-time defender Roba, who received 14 of 17 votes in the Globe poll. Interestingly, Lynn Jennings received two. ''I picked Bill Rodgers to win in 1975 when nobody heard of him,'' said running guru Tommy Leonard, who was on the Jennings bandwagon. ''She doesn't enter a race if she doesn't think she'll win,'' was someone else's opinion. She won three World Cross-Country Championships, a race former Boston record-holder Rob de Castella once said is the toughest race in the world to win.

Roba and Loroupe have been dominant forces in women's marathoning, but they will have competed on different continents by the time today's race is history in Beantown. The backdrop is that Tanui and Roba are both trying to win three Bostons. Clarence DeMar (7), Bill Rodgers (4), and Gerard Cote (4) are the only ones to have won four times or more. Will Tanui win three? ''Why not four?'' he responds.

This story ran on page D01 of the Boston Globe on 04/19/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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