BOSTON -- Moses Tanui was worried about the downhill parts of the course, and indeed he dropped almost 300 yards behind the leaders during one such stretch. Fatuma Roba was worried about the pain in her right leg that forced her to curtail her training the past three weeks.
Those worries disappeared yesterday in the 102nd annual Boston Marathon, America's most storied road race. Tanui won in a dogfight, and Roba won in a runaway. He won for the second time in three years, she for the second consecutive year. Each ran exceptionally fast for the 26 miles, 385 yards from suburban Hopkinton to the Back Bay section near downtown Boston.
Tanui, 32, a Kenyan, won by 20 yards over another Kenyan, Joseph Chebet. Tanui's time of 2 hours, 7 minutes, 34 seconds was his fastest ever, the third-fastest ever in Boston and the 12th-fastest anywhere.
Roba, 24, an Ethiopian, won the women's race by almost three-quarters of a mile. Her time of 2: 23: 21 was also her fastest ever, the third-fastest in Boston history and the ninth-fastest ever by a woman.
This was Patriot's Day, a holiday celebrated annually here to commemorate the 1775 nastiness with the British in suburban Lexington and Concord. The runners benefited from temperatures near 60 and a friendly tailwind.
For years, foreigners have dominated this race. This was the eighth consecutive year a Kenyan man had won, and Kenyans finished first, second and fifth. In the past seven years, Uta Pippig of Germany has won the women's race three times, Roba twice and Olga Markova of Russia twice.
Tanui's victory was all the more dramatic because it produced the tightest three-man finish ever here. He beat Chebet, 27, by three seconds and Gert Thys, 26, a South African, by 15 seconds more.
Marathons are often lost when runners abandon race plans and let emotions take over. Tanui did not let that happen.
"Today was my day," he said, "because I lost the pack two times and came back. I don't know how to run downhill and they were running fast downhill. That's where I lost my contact. I was really worried, but I thought if I caught up quickly I could win the race because they were running too fast."
At 23 miles, Tanui, trailing again, took off after the leading pack. At 24 miles, he was there, and he, Chebet and Thys surged away from the others. At 25 miles, the course took them within 100 yards of Fenway Park, where the Red Sox were beating the Cleveland Indians in an 11 a.m. holiday game. There, Thys fell back, and now it was down to the two Kenyans. Actually, Chebet said, it was down to one.
"When he came beside me," he said of Tanui, "I knew he was going to win."
Tanui, the 1991 world champion at 10,000 meters, had the speed. He also had the endurance from having run more than 180 miles a week in training. Here, with 220 yards to go, he made the winning move.
"I was a little tired," he said, "but I tried to sprint anyway. Chebet didn't have the energy."
Two favorites, three-time champion Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya, and last year's third-place finisher, Dionicio Ceron of Mexico, dropped out before 16 miles.
Libbie Hickman of Fort Collins, Colo., considered the only elite American in the men's or women's field, finished 12th in her marathon debut in 2: 35: 37. But she was beaten by Mary-Lynn Currier of Plymouth, Mass., 11th at 2: 35: 18.
The first American man was Joseph McVeigh, of Summit, N.J., 17th at 2: 16: 48.
Jim Hage, of Lanham, Md., was the third American finisher in 2: 22: 44.
Each winner received $80,000 from the total purse of $520,000.
The men's and women's wheelchair winners were the same as last year -- Franz Nietlispach of Switzerland, in 1: 21: 52, and Louise Sauvage of Australia, in 1: 41: 19. Nietlispach, the champion for third time in four years, won handily, but Sauvage had to rally gallantly from about 1,000 meters behind to beat seven-time champion Jean Driscoll of Champaign, Ill., by about a length.
In the women's race, Roba had no need to sprint, just to survive. For 16 miles, she and co-favored Colleen De Reuck, 34, a South African, ran side by side. Then, on a downhill, Roba broke clear. De Reuck faded and finished fifth in 2: 29: 43.
But Roba, the Olympic marathon champion, was not home free. Since last summer, she had been troubled by an injury to her right leg. She is unsure about the nature of the problem, and she feared the pain would come back. It did, but only mildly, and she finished far ahead of runner-up Renata Paradowska, 27, a Pole, who ran 2: 27: 17.
"I had just a small pain during the race," Roba said, "but I found it to be a very easy race. Had I not got that pain, I would have finished in 2: 20 or 2: 22."
The women's world record, set Sunday in Rotterdam by Tegla Loroupe of Kenya, is 2: 20: 47. Roba does not think the record will last.
"I can beat it," she said. "Definitely."
Pub Date: 4/21/98