Rivalries, revenge mark 105th Boston

2000 marathon finish still a sore point for Kenyans, Ethiopian

Boston Marathon

April 16, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON - History was made at last year's Boston Marathon. Never before had three runners at the head of the pack rounded the last turn together.

The finish was stunning, rough and the closest ever here. Elijah Lagat, a 33-year-old Kenyan who took up running because his doctor told him he was too fat and might die, won in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds. Gezahenge Abera of Ethiopia, only 21, was inches behind in the identical time. Moses Tanui of Kenya, 34, a two-time Boston winner, slipped to third, three seconds back.

Minutes later came angry charges of kicking and elbowing. Now comes Abera's chance for revenge and Lagat's and Tanui's chance to prove the Kenyans' superiority because the three runners will meet again in today's 105th Boston Marathon.

As an added twist, Abera became the ranking celebrity of road racing by winning last summer's Olympic marathon. Of the 11 fastest men here, six are Kenyan and one - Abera - is Ethiopian.

The two fastest women - Catherine Ndereba (last year's winner) and Lornah Kiplagat - are Kenyan. The third-fastest is Ethiopian Fatuma Roba, who won three straight times here beginning in 1997.

None of the 10 women listed as elite is American. Five of the 24 elite men - Dave Morris, Rod DeHaven, Mark Coogan, Josh Cox and Scott Larson - are Americans, an encouraging development considering the two-decade stagnation of American distance running.

The mostly downhill race will cover the standard 26 miles, 385 yards from suburban Hopkinton to the Back Bay section of Boston.

As many as 40 male and female runners and 10 wheelchair athletes will share the prize money totaling $525,000. The men's and women's open winners will get $80,000 each. Win or lose, most of the 34 elite runners will receive promotional fees ranging as high as $150,000 for Abera, Tanui and Roba.

Much of the prize and promotional money will go to the Kenyans and Ethiopians, almost enemies in a sport where camaraderie is the rule. Listen to what the three principals said about last year's physical finish.

Abera now: "I was very much disappointed last year. It was two Kenyans against one Ethiopian, and I lost the race at the finish. One Kenyan - the winner - elbowed me. I hope the ganging up will not happen this year. As competitors, there has to be some kind of discipline. Last year, the Kenyans were creating this kind of problem."

Lagat after that race: "Those who were watching might say that it was he who was kicking me, but I didn't think of it as being intentional. I know that when somebody is concentrating on following rather than sharing the lead, these things can happen."

Lagat now: "When Tanui spurted at the end, Abera followed him. I stayed wide because when I passed, I didn't want anybody to follow my steps, so I don't know how I could have elbowed him."

Tanui after the race: "He kicked me two or three times when I was in front. He's the one who was doing it, and it is his problem"

Tanui now: "The Ethiopians are giving us problems every time. They never do that to other athletes, just Kenyans. They complain for nothing. They have people who cause the problems."

Abera said he was disappointed that elite marathon fields had so many Kenyans and fewer Ethiopians. "That gives an advantage to the Kenyans," he said, "and they can take me out of a race."

If the Ethiopians are upset by Kenyan superiority, perhaps runners from other nations are, too.

"I don't think so," Abera said. "After all, this is friendly competition."

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