BOSTON -- It wasn't surprising that a Kenyan won the 97th running of the Boston Marathon yesterday. The shock was that the man from Kenya with the gold medal dangling from his neck and wreath wrapped around his head was not defending champion Ibrahim Hussein, Benson Maysa or even Boniface Merande.
All were considered contenders this year, and all hail from Kenya.
Yet it was another Kenyan, 23-year-old Cosmas N'Deti, who passed leader Lucketz Swartbooi of Namibia at the 24-mile mark and kept going, crossing the finish line first. He was followed 11 seconds later by South Korea's Kim Jae-Yong. Swartbooi finished third.
Things went more according to plan in the women's race, where defending champion, Russia's Olga Markova, distanced herself from the pack by the halfway point and finished more than four minutes ahead of second-place winner Kim Jones in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 27 seconds. Carmen De Oliviera finished third.
N'Deti's time, 2:09:32, was well off course and world records, but who knows what he might do in his third marathon?
In his first effort, last year's Honolulu Marathon, N'Deti finished second to his best friend and training partner, Maysa. Yesterday, competing in his second marathon, it was Maysa who directed N'Deti to "hold back" when the lead pack started off slowly in 70-degree heat and under sunny skies. And it was Maysa who told him to go ahead when N'Deti felt it was time to make his move.
"I was feeling that I had the energy to move," N'Deti said of his come- from-behind push at the 24-mile mark. He moved up on Swartbooi's left, stole one look at him and then left him behind with another glance over his shoulder.
"I was watching him because I came from the back. I tried to look at his face to understand whether he is going to beat me or not," N'Deti said. He must have liked what he saw. "I knew then I could beat him."
The victory earned N'Deti a spot on the Kenyan national team that will compete in the World Championships of Athletics in Stuttgart, Germany, this summer. It will be the team to beat.
"I don't think they have any limits," said sixth-place finisher Mark Plaatjes, who comes from Boulder, Colo., via South Africa, of the recent rise to prominence of Kenyan marathoners. "You see it in cycles. At the moment, the Kenyans are on an up cycle. They definitely dominate track and field and cross country. But I certainly didn't think Cosmas was going to be the one to do it today."
Neither did Hussein, who won here in 1998, 1991 and 1992 but was forced to drop out of this year's race.
"I thought I was going to get the fourth one," Hussein said. If he had, he would have been only the fourth man to win as many as four Boston Marathons. "But the weather was really bad. Before I started I drank a lot of water. I felt a side stich. It went away, but after 11 miles it came back again. I thought I was going to work it out, but it stayed with me."
When Hussein was forced out at the 18-mile mark, it looked as if this race would come down to a duel between Swartbooi and Yong. They pulled away from a lead pack that ran a very conservative first half. During the course of the last 13 miles, however, the winners ran negative splits, a prelude to an odd finish in which Swartbooi broke away from Yong, only to be passed by N'Deti. Then, at last, as he made his way through Kenmore Square toward the finish line, Swartbooi was passed by Yong as well.
The women's race was decided well before Markova crossed the finish line. She spent the last half of the race running without competition. That, she indicated, was the plan.
"I made this race myself, 100 percent," Markova said through an interpreter. "I had to take the lead from the very beginning. No one helped me maintain the pace."
Markova ran the fastest marathon by a woman in 1992, when she won Boston with a time of 2:23:43. She had hoped that her outstanding time would earn her a place on the Unified Team's Olympic entry. But the federation choosing the team had designated the Los Angeles Marathon as the basis for its selection and, therefore, left Markova off the team in favor of Valentina Yegorova. Yegorova went on to win the gold.
Yesterday, the two raced against one another for the first time.
It was no contest. Yegorova was well behind Markova when she dropped out at the 22-mile mark. She attributed her poor showing to a flu she caught in Tokyo last month.
In the wheelchair competition, Jim Knaub in the men's division and Jean Driscoll in the women's division set world records. Knaub smashed the record he set here last year by more than four minutes, finishing in 1:22:17.
Driscoll broke her world record for the third time, finishing in 1:34:50.