Kenyan and Russian pull away

Kenyan men finished in the top five spots and eight of the first nine in the Boston Marathon. No surprise.

Frank Litsky

Kenyan Robert Kipkoech Cheriuyot celebrates, after winning the 107th Boston Marathon. — Pic. REUTERS-

Kenyan men finished in the top five spots and eight of the first nine in the Boston Marathon. No surprise.

Russian women finished first, second, sixth and seventh. That was a mild surprise because Kenyan women had won here the past two years and seemed likely to win again.

This 107th running of America's oldest and most celebrated road race also provided other unusual developments. Three American women finished among the top nine, the first time that had happened in a decade, although the fastest of the three, Marla Runyan of Eugene, Oregeon, was disappointed with her fifth place.

The leading American man, 42-year-old Eddy Hellebuyck of Albuquerque, finished 10th. Born in Belgium and an American citizen since 1999, Hellebuyck took second in the masters competition behind Fyodor Ryzhov, a 43-year-old Russian, and his high overall finish reflected a weak field of American men.

The overall winners, both by wide margins, were 24-year-old Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot among the men and 32-year-old Svetlana Zakharova among the women. While Zakharova had finished in the top three of a marathon 13 times since 1996, Cheruiyot was running only his second marathon. He also won his first, in Milan, in December.

As usual, the course here covered 26 miles 385 yards from suburban Hopkinton to the Back Bay section of Boston. The men started with fast miles, but when the temperature reached 72 degrees and headwinds became a factor, the runners slowed down.

Cheruiyot finished in 2 hours 10 minutes 11 seconds, the slowest winning time here since 1997. Zakharova won in 2:25:20, a routine time for runners of her calibre.

The first three male finishers — Cheruiyot, Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai and Martin Lel — are managed by Gabriele Rosa, an Italian physician.

"Cheruiyot won because he is a fighter, he's able to climb and he's fast at the finish,'' Rosa said. "Why was the time slow? It was too hot.'' A Kenyan man won here for the 12th time in 13 years. The question was not if a Kenyan would win, but which Kenyan would win. One of them, Vincent Kipsos, led for the first half of the race. Then, feeling he was headed for a poor time, he dropped out.

Another victim was Rodgers Rop, a Kenyan who won the Boston and New York City Marathons last year. Here, at 15 miles, his body rebelled, and he finished seventh in 2:16:14.

"The muscles became tight,'' he said. "I could not even swing my hands. It became hotter. Maybe I was dehydrated.'' Cheruiyot was running easily in the leading pack, waiting to strike. A mile or so past Heartbreak Hill, the last of the Newton hills, with five miles to go, he took off and ran miles of 4:37, 4:46 and 4:47.

"I knew Heartbreak Hill was where many people try to break away,'' he said. "You have to take care and make sure you have enough in your body to keep moving.'' He had more than enough. He won by perhaps 120 yards.

The women's race started like an American dream. The 34-year-old Runyan led after a mile and stayed up front with Margaret Okayo of Kenya, last year's winner. Runyan fell back, then regained the lead after 10 miles.

It was unreal because Runyan has Stargardt's disease, which has left her legally blind. As in New York, where she made her marathon debut last November, a bike rider accompanied her to warn of potholes and let her know where the water stations were.

Here, she fell back again in mid-race, worked her way up toward the leaders and remained optimistic that she would run the 2:24 or 2:25 her training pointed to. But in the 17th mile she started feeling side stitches and calf cramps. She began running on her heels to stretch the calf muscles.

"I then re-evaluated my goals,'' she said. "I decided my goal was to run as strong as I could and finish.'' Runyan finished in 2:30:28, not what she wanted after her 2:27:10 in New York.

On the other hand, Zakharova was a contented winner. At 18 miles, her teeth clenched, she pulled away and no one challenged. She beat her countrywoman Lyubov Denisova by a quarter-mile. Okayo finished fourth.

Cheruiyot and Zakharova collected $80,000 each and appearance fees.

For the Americans, there were fewer dollars, but plenty of satisfaction. As Hellebuyck, whose time was 2:17:18, said: "I saw the elite pack and I knew it was my competition. I am so proud of myself. This is big for the U.S.'' The American women who finished behind Runyan were Milena Glusac, 27, of Fallbrook, California, eighth in 2:37:32, and Jill Gaitenby, 36, of Providence, Rhode Island, ninth in 2:38:19. "We have a great opportunity now,'' Gaitenby said. "Now that we have marathoners who have run well, other girls are saying `I can do it, too.'"

The results:

Men: 1. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Kenya, 2 hours, 10 minutes, 11 seconds; 2. Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai, Kenya, 2:10:34; 3. Martin Lel, Kenya, 2:11:11; 4. Timothy Cherigat, Kenya, 2:11:28; 5. Christopher Cheboiboch, Kenya, 2:12:45; 6. Fedor Ryzhov, Russia, 2:15:29; 7. Rodgers Rop, Kenya, 2:16:14; 8. David Kiptum Busienei, Kenya, 2:16:16; 9. Elly Rono, Kenya, 2:17:00; 10. Eddy Hellebuyck, United States, 2:17:18.

Women: 1. Svetlana Zakharova, Russia, 2:25:20; 2. Lyubov Denisova, Russia, 2:26:51; 3. Joyce Chepchumba, Kenya, 2:27:20; 4. Margaret Okayo, Kenya, 2:27:39; 5. Marla Runyan, United States, 2:30:28; 6. Albina Ivanova, Russia, 2:30:57; 7. Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova, Russia, 2:31:30; 8. Milena Glusac, United States, 2:37:32; 9. Jill Gaitenby, United States, 2:38:19; 10. Esther Kiplagat, Kenya, 2:38:43.

New York Times News Service