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This time, he is second to none

A determined Chebet goes it one better

By Joe Concannon, Globe Staff, 04/20/99

here are times when the marathoner has to hide the disappointment, regroup in the lonely times when he is training, grit his teeth, and say to himself, ''Second place isn't all that bad, but what about first?'' Joseph Chebet discovered in his own way that, to paraphrase Thomas Paine, these are the times that try men's soles.

How else to exult than with a monumental triumph in yesterday's 103d running of the Boston Marathon? After all, he was second in the New York City Marathon in 1997. He was second in Boston last year, by three seconds, to fellow Kenyan Moses Tanui. He was second in New York last year by three seconds to countryman John Kagwe. Two major races, six seconds away from two victories.

This is what made yesterday very special, in a personal sense, as Chebet seized the lead from Ecuadoran Silvio Guerra with a 4:43 mile just before they headed off Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton onto the downhill stretch on Chestnut Hill Avenue for the final 4 miles of the 26-mile-285-yard course.

By the time Chebet reached the finish line by the Boston Public Library in the Back Bay, there was no change in the order. With defender Tanui dropping out at virtually the same section where Chebet made his decisive move, Chebet ran to victory in 2 hours 9 minutes 52 seconds on an afternoon that saw bright sunlight and favoring breezes at the start give way to a twisting wind that slowed times as the runners headed home.

Chebet's time was tied for only the 38th-fastest in the race's history, but he won the world's oldest continuing marathon and $80,000. Guerra ($40,000), who had threatened to run away and hide before reality set in, was second in 2:10:19. Frank Pooe ($22,500) of South Africa, an 11th-hour entry running in his first race outside his homeland, trailed in third in 2:11:37, followed by countryman Abner Chipu ($18,000) in 2:12:46 and Kagwe ($14,000) in 2:13:58.

Chebet, who ran 2:07:37 a year ago, was content to sit in a shifting pack in the early miles.

''I thought it was a bit fast at 5 kilometers,'' he said of the 15:22 pace established by Ethiopia's Tesfaye Bekele (20th, 2:21:20) heading through Ashland.

It remained for Kenyan Kenneth Cheruiyot to take it out through the next 11 miles in his dutiful rabbit's role before dropping out at the 17th mile. This is where Guerra moved to the front, opening a lead of nearly 150 yards by the time he raced through 30 kilometers in 1:32:37. It was becoming time for Chebet to make his move.

''I said, `I am not going to make the same time I did last year,''' said Chebet. ''I tried to talk to my competitors to tell them to push the pace, but they were tired. I saw my fellow Kenyans were not going to try to catch up. I said, `Maybe I should go. If not, maybe I can be second.'''

The bottom line was that Chebet had to make his moves through the Newton hills to avoid a fourth straight second place in major marathons.

''I pushed it hard,'' said Chebet.

This left the pained Guerra in pursuit.

''The first half of the race was not too fast,'' said Guerra, who made his marathon debut in Tokyo (2:14:02) in 1997. ''That's why I decided to go out after 25 kilometers. I was feeling good. To win a race, you have to take risks.

''I was feeling great and strong, but I'm very new to marathons and I'm just trying to learn how to run. That's why I left them.

''I tried to win the race, but in a marathon anything can happen. When I left, I just wanted to make a move and I didn't know who was behind me. I turned back, and nobody was there. I pushed hard, but after 20 miles I started to get blisters so I slowed down.''

Pooe found Boston to be ''a tough course'' for which you ''have to be ready mentally and physically.''

''I felt to run well against the Kenyans you have to be clever and save your energy to finish in a good position,'' he said. ''I wasn't feeling too good in the last miles, so I dropped back on my pace. I had to slow down. I think I'll come back and do it the next time.''

This was a race of attrition. Bill Rodgers dropped out at Heartbreak Hill in his bid to set an American record for 50-and-over runners.

''I'm disappointed,'' he said, ''but I was struggling.''

John Campbell of New Zealand, who had set a masters record (40 and over) with his 2:11:04 in 1990, also dropped out.

Lynn Jennings of Newmarket, N.H., was never a factor in her official marathon debut at age 38, finishing 12th in 2:38:37.

It remained for Chebet and the indefatigable Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia (2:23:25) to take the final race of the 1900s and put it away with comfortable margins of victory. There was no Tanui/Chebet duel to the finish on Boylston Street.

For the record, there were negative splits in the men's race - Chebet passed through the half-marathon in 1:05:29, the second half in 1:04:23 - - which doesn't happen often in Boston. But when you've been second once too often, you have to turn it on.

''I was running second because of the way he was trying to push the pace,'' said Chebet of the tactics employed by Guerra. ''I was running by myself and the guy from South Africa and I didn't know if we would catch up with him.''

He did. And he won.

This story ran on page F02 of the Boston Globe on 04/20/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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