Kenyans make mark in returning to glory

Okayo tops countrywoman to set record course time

Rop captures men's title

Boston Marathon

April 16, 2002|By Lew Freedman | Lew Freedman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BOSTON - Margaret The Magnificent trumped Catherine the Great.

And a man named Rodgers was again crowned champion of the Boston Marathon.

On a misty, cool afternoon, tiny Margaret Okayo outran two-time champion Catherine Ndereba with a women's course-record performance, and Rodgers Rop outran everyone to claim the men's title yesterday in the 106th edition of the nation's oldest foot race.

What they all had in common was heritage. Once again, the course was a 26.2-mile Kenyan playground. Kenyans took six of the top seven places in the men's race and the top two slots in the women's race.

Kenyans dominated the field of 17,000 competitors on the local Patriots Day holiday. But in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many athletes and spectators in the crowd approaching 1 million wore red, white and blue garb or displayed American flags.

Rop, 26, whose only previous marathon experience was a third-place finish in New York last fall, made himself the second-most-accomplished Rodgers in Boston lore behind four-time champ Bill Rodgers. A policeman, Rop broke through with swift mile surges after a pedestrian half-marathon pace, winning in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds.

Countryman Christopher Cheboiboch, 25, hounded Rop to the finish, but placed second in 2:09:05.

Lee Bong-Ju, 31, the defending champ from South Korea, was fifth in 2:10:30. His win in 2001 interrupted a run of 10 straight victories by the Kenyans, who feel very possessive about the Boston Marathon.

"Before running I said we have to reclaim our title," Rop said.

While a bulging pack of more than 20 men flowed toward Boston, the Okayo-Ndereba duel was a contrasting drama. They shook off eventual fourth-place finisher Sun Yingjie of China after 16 miles, then battled one-on-one. Okayo, 25, is only 4 feet 10 and weighs 86 pounds, yet her short, strong strides held off the longer-legged Ndereba to win in 2:20:43. That broke Uta Pippig's 1994 Boston course record of 2:21:45.

The temperature was in the 50s and Okayo wore a black knit hat - for warmth. Ndereba, believing the incorrect forecast of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s, wore sunglasses.

Okayo is the reigning New York City Marathon champ. But Ndereba, 29, is the reigning world-record holder at 2:18:47, run in the Chicago Marathon last year. Ndereba sought to become the third woman to win Boston three times in a row since women's results were sanctioned in 1972.

Lew Freedman is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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