Kenyan Success A 7-year Run

Aguta Pulls Away Late For Boston Triumph

Roba Women's Winner


BOSTON -- A Kenyan won the Boston Marathon for the seventh consecutive year yesterday when Lameck Aguta used his sprint training to break a Mexican challenge in the final 1 1/2 miles, taking first place in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 34 seconds in the 101st running.

Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia became the first African woman to win the Boston Marathon as she crossed the tape in 2:26:23. She also became the first reigning Olympic champion -- male or female -- to win Boston in the following year.

Roba, 26, toyed with Elana Meyer (2: 27: 09) and Colleen De Reuck (2: 28: 03), both of South Africa, before easing away in the final two miles.

The winners earned $75,000 apiece.

Uta Pippig of Germany, attempting to become the first woman to win four consecutive Boston Marathons, had not been able to train sufficiently since she suffered stress fractures in her right foot and leg at the 1996 Summer Olympics. She dropped off at 16 miles and finished fourth in 2: 28: 51.

Moses Tanui of Kenya, the defending men's champion, contracted bronchitis a week ago, which made breathing difficult yesterday. He hung on gamely beyond 24 miles before slipping to fifth place in 2: 11: 38.

At least he fared better than his countryman Cosmas Ndeti, who won Boston in 1993, 1994 and 1995, but caught malaria last February. Not completely fit, Ndeti finished a distant 27th in 2: 22: 56, far off his course record of 2: 07: 15.

With the exception of Roba, who has now won the world's two most prestigious marathons in the Olympics and Boston, yesterday might have been more significant for the running demise of Pippig and Ndeti than for the ascent of any new stars.

The winning times were disappointing, considering that men's champions had posted times under 2: 08 at London and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in the last eight days, and that Tegla Loroupe of Kenya won the women's race in Rotterdam on Sunday in 2: 22: 07.

The men's race shaped up as expected as a battle between Kenyan and Mexican runners, but a 12-mph head wind and tentativeness kept the pace to a crawl. Only three of the first 13 miles were run under five minutes, and a pack of about 25 runners went through the halfway point in 1: 06: 11, before Aguta came home.

"It was a psychological problem for all the guys," said Aguta, 25. "When they saw all the guys were there, no one wanted to work. I thought I was jogging."

The slow pace played right into his hands. In three previous appearances at Boston, none higher than fourth place, Aguta had been impatient, starting too quickly and running out of gas.

In the women's race, Roba was content to stay with Meyer and De Reuck, even letting them lead on the famous series of hills called Heartbreak between 17 and 21 miles. But there was no question who would win. Roba ran Mile 24 in 5: 27, then drew away before Mile 25. Roba's victory was not as fast as the 2: 26: 05 she ran at the Olympics, but it authenticated her international credentials.

"She was a big surprise in the Olympics," Meyer said of Roba. "Today, she proved she can do it on a consistent basis."

The 101st running lacked speed and passion, but the top racers in the women's wheelchair division were willing to attack. Jean Driscoll of Champaign, Ill., and Louise Sauvage of Australia played a game of cat and mouse for 22 miles until the unthinkable happened.

Driscoll, who was attempting to become the first athlete to win Boston eight times, wheeled into the groove of a trolley track, flipped her wheelchair and rolled on her back.

Helped up, she continued the final four miles of the 26.2-mile race on a flat tire and still finished second, providing most of the drama.

"This is the race I plan my life around," said the 30-year-old Driscoll, who finished in 2: 01: 15, while Sauvage took first in 1: 54: 29. "I wasn't just going to lay on the ground."

No one had been more consistent at Boston than Driscoll, who had won the women's wheelchair race the previous seven years. Billy DeMar won the men's open race seven times between 1911 and 1930, but no one had won eight times.

Driscoll, who holds the world wheelchair marathon record in 1: 34: 22, seemed a sure bet. But she had lost by a second to Sauvage in the Los Angeles Marathon last month. Yesterday, every second mattered. While Driscoll led on the hills, Sauvage caught her on the flats. At 22.3 miles, Driscoll tried to make an inside move on Sauvage as they headed into a turn, only to catch her right wheel in a trolley track and roll her wheelchair.

"It didn't seem fair," Sauvage said.

A volunteer or a police officer helped to right Driscoll, who was strapped into her wheelchair. The accident had pulled the right tire from its rim, and Driscoll had to let the air out to refit the tire. Pressured by an oncoming competitor, she wheeled the rest of the way on a flat tire and held on to second place.



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