Kenyan men sweep top five places

Kenya's Evans Rutto has every reason to like the marathon. He won the Chicago Marathon in his first race at the distance as his countrymen swept the top five places.

Kenya's Evans Rutto has every reason to like the marathon. He won the Chicago Marathon in his first race at the distance as his countrymen swept the top five places.

Evans Rutto of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the Chicago Marathon. The first-timer won in 2 hr 05 min 50 sec, eight seconds off the race mark. -- Pic. AFP-

Rutto pulled away after 20 miles and ran the rest of the way by himself. His time of two hours, five minutes and 50 seconds was a world best for a first-time marathoner.

Russia's Svetlana Zakharova, this year's Boston Marathon winner, captured the women's division in 2:23:07.

Rutto beat the previous debut mark of 2:06:47, set by Wilson Onsare in Paris this year. Rutto was just shy of the Chicago course record of 2:05:42, run last year by Khalid Khannouchi.

"I was really feeling very strong," said Rutto, smiling as he crossed the line.

Rutto, a top runner in shorter distances, was followed by Paul Koech in 2:07:07 for the 26.2 miles, more than a minute behind. Daniel Njenga, second last year, was third in 2:07:41. Peter Chebet and Jimmy Muindi completed the top five.

The top American was Mebrahtom Keflezighi, who became a U. S. citizen in 1998. He was seventh in 2:10:03.

Svetlana Zakharova of Russia raises her hands, after winning the women's title. -- Pic. AFP-

A 29-year-old woman collapsed and died shortly after she finished, officials said. Her identity was not disclosed. The woman was the fourth to die since the marathon began in 1977. The most recent was in 2001, when a 22-year-old Seattle man collapsed and died of heat exhaustion.

With a field of 40,000, the race was run under clear skies, with the starting temperature at 53, a pleasant surprise for runners expecting chill and wind in October in Chicago.

Pace-setter Gert Thys ran the first half about 11 seconds ahead of the lead pack that included Rutto. But with the wind finally at his back, Rutto and the leaders passed Thys at about 15 miles.

Koech, who trains with Rutto in Boulder, Colorado, said it wasn't until Thys separated from the group that they decided the pace was too slow.

Rutto extended his lead to 17 seconds over Koech with about five miles to go. Rutto was heading for a course record but tired in the closing miles.

"When I reached about the (20-mile) mark I started to see that the guys were not really moving, so I tried to run away," Rutto said. "I was expecting some guys to come with me."

They didn't.

"I felt that it was a little bit early to follow," said Koech, also making his marathon debut. "I also felt a slight problem with my hamstring, so I decided to go slow and tried to peak at the end."

In the women's race, Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania broke out on her own from the start and led by 90 seconds just after the midway point.

Zakharova, one of the most prolific marathoners, caught the Romanian with about five miles to go. Zakharova was second in the London Marathon last year and has won the Honolulu Marathon twice.

Zakharova, speaking through an interpreter, said she knew Tomescu-Dita likes to run in front, so she wasn't worried about falling behind.

Tomescu-Dita was second in 2:23:35 and Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia was third in 2:24:53.

To make the race more attractive to top runners, officials altered the flat course this year to make it even faster. Six turns were eliminated from the final three miles — though with no challengers to push Rutto, the easy finish wasn't much of a help.

The field was missing some of the top runners from last year when Paula Radcliffe set the world record. She later beat that mark in London.

World record holder Paul Tergat ran in Berlin and four-time winner Khannouchi pulled out because of injury. Radcliffe and two-time champion Catherine Ndereba also skipped the race.

Men: 1. Evans Rutto 2:05:50, 2. Paul Koech 2:07:07, 3. Daniel Njenga 2:07:41, 4. Peter Chebet 2:08:43, 5. Jimmy Muindi 2:08:57, 6. Abdelkader El Mouaziz 2:09:38, 7. Mebrahton Keflezhigi 2:10:03, 8. Hendrick Ramaala 2:10:58

Women: 1. Svetlana Zakharova 2:23:07, 2. Constantina Tomescu-Dita 2:23:35, 3. Jelena Prokopcuka 2:24:53, 4. Albina Ivanova 2:25:35, 5. Grazyna Syrek 2:26:22.