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Chebet is squired to breakthrough win by a local expert

By Bob Ryan, Globe Columnist, 04/20/99

illy Squires knew. No, seriously, I don't just mean he had a good idea, or a reasonably educated guess, or that if you said, ''OK, Bill, if I put a gun to your head and insist you pick someone to win the race,'' he would shrug his shoulders and say, ''Well, in that case I'll say Chebet.'' That's not what I'm talking about.

What I'm talking about is that the unquestioned final authority on all road racing matters in New England, and, frankly, the whole 50 states, knew.He was sitting quietly in the back of the press room during the 103d running of the world's greatest marathon - you heard me, New York and all you other pretenders - as Ecuadoran Silvio Guerra was chewing up the course in the middle stages of the race when someone asked him who was going to win. Without hesitation, he picked up a piece of paper and wrote down the name ''Joseph Chebet.''

''I told 'em at 10K who was going to win,'' he said. ''Chebet came to me on Saturday. He sought me out. He said, `I want the American coach to take me out on the course.'''

Smart guy, this Chebet. The 28-year-old Kenyan had come to the right person. There isn't a soul on this earth who knows the most famous 26-mile, 385-yard slice of real estate in the world better than Billy Squires. Think about this: In 1979 the Nos. 1 (Bill Rodgers), 3 (Bobby Hodge), 8 (Randy Thomas), and 10 (Dickie Mahoney) finishers in the race were all Squires-trained members of the Greater Boston Track Club.

The key to the course, as everyone knows, is Newton, specifically the hills.

''I showed Joseph the `move' spots and the `pull' spots,'' Squires said.

Chebet almost had the place figured out last year. He had finished second, losing the race in the late stages when Moses Tanui simply outkicked him. He knew he hadn't suddenly become a sprinter, and that if he was going to win Boston it would have to be run long before Kenmore Square, and probably even before Cleveland Circle.

Whatever high-level pointers Squires imparted to Chebet seemed to take. As Guerra was apparently blowing away the field through the first 20-22 miles, Chebet was patiently keeping an eye on things from the middle of a respectful pack anywhere from 50 to 100 yards in arrears. Chebet wasn't worried. He knew that Guerra was running his first Boston.

Drawing on his brainstorming session with Professor Squires, Chebet started his move in Newton.

''He knew that the hill at Newton City Hall was the place to start and that after that he was going to own the real estate,'' declared Squires. ''He knew he'd be in command by the 22-mile mark.''

''The race was great,'' said Guerra. ''The first half was not so fast, so that is why I decided to go after it at 25K. I was feelng great and strong. But I am very new to the marathon. This is only my fourth, and I'm just learning how to run it. I tried to run the race. You never know in the marathon. Anything can happen.''

The course can fool the uninitiated. It is, after all, downhill, for the most part. At least, it is until it isn't. And then when you get to the hills, it's not as if you find yourself staring at Mt. Everest. The Newton hills are subtly treacherous.

''The course is a lullaby out there for the first 9 miles,'' smiled Squires. It is possible to get out there and start thinking that it's overrated. And if you're a drop-dead, world-class runner like Silvio Guerra, you have enough confidence in yourself to go for it. Guerra isn't the first skilled newcomer to make a fatal misjudgment here in Boston.

''When I left [the pack],'' said Guerra, ''I just wanted to make a move. I didn't know who was coming behind me, because I was feeling good. When you feel good, you have to go for it. If you can do well, good. If not, at least you tried.''

Speaking of trying, how about Mr. Chebet? He had become known as marathoning's ultimate second banana. Second to Tanui here last year. Second in the 1997 New York Marathon. Second in the 1998 New York Marathon. Along the way, he was busy establishing some record runner-up times, including his personal best of 2:07:37 in this race last year.

''He doesn't like to be second,'' confirmed press conference moderator Tom Fleming, who was charged with facilitating Chebet's rapid and difficult-to-understand English. ''He likes to be first.''

Chebet's victory keeps alive the growing Kenyan tradition, not only here, where five Kenyans have won the last nine Boston Marathons, but worldwide. It has almost come to the point where in the world of marathoning it is the Kenyans and then it is Everyone Else. Against this competition, Guerra had to feel a bit intimidated, no?

Well, no.

''I'm used to being around just Kenyans; I'm the only one half-white in that group,'' laughed the half-black, half-Incan Guerra, who ended up second. ''I'm really prepared to run with the Africans. They are the best in the world. I am very happy to be here with these guys.''

So the real winner of the race, as always, was the course.

''You must be clever and learn how to save your energy,'' said third-place finisher Frank Pooe, a pleasant South African. And you also have to know where to find Billy Squires when you need him.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist.

This story ran on page F01 of the Boston Globe on 04/20/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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