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Kenyans run back into customary spot

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2002

BOSTON -- Kenyans are back on top of the Boston Marathon, reclaiming a winning tradition that's now as much a part of the race as Heartbreak Hill.

Rodgers Rop won the men's event Monday, three seconds ahead of Christopher Cheboiboch, and Margaret Okayo set a course record for women in beating two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba.

All are from Kenya, whose 10-year winning streak among men was broken last year by Lee Bong-ju of South Korea, who was fifth and the first non-Kenyan to cross the finish line.

"The Kenyans are very happy. Last year, I was not happy," Rop said. "Before running, I said, "We have to reclaim our title.' It's become a tradition in Kenya to win Boston, so I had to try my level best to win."

As he crossed the finish line, Cheboiboch embraced Rop.

At that same spot about 2 1/2 hours earlier, four American flags -- each 45-by-90 feet -- were held horizontally by volunteers in the first Boston Marathon since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Just before the 26.2-mile race that is held each year on Patriots Day, about 17,000 runners gathered near the red, white and blue starting line in overcast Hopkinton west of Boston. A state trooper sang the Star-Spangled Banner, then ran the marathon.

The race began in cooler temperatures than expected and it became clear there was an excellent chance the Kenyan national anthem would be played at the end.

"I just feel proud when I hear that national anthem being played," Ndereba said after she embraced Okayo. "And if it was not for me, it's for Margaret."

Rop finished third in his only other marathon, in New York last November. Okayo won the women's race there.

Her winning time Monday was 2 hours, 20 minutes, 43 seconds, beating Uta Pippig's course record of 2:21:45 set in 1994. Ndereba finished in 2:21:12. Elfenesh Alemu of Ethiopia was third in 2:26:01. It was Ndereba's first marathon since she won the Chicago race last year in a world-best 2:18:47 on a flatter course.

Rop won in 2:09:02. Cheboiboch's time was 2:09:05. They were followed by Kenyans Fred Kiprop and Mbarak Hussein. Both finished in 2:09:45 with Kiprop getting third.

The winner on the hilly Boston course was almost 3 1/2 minutes behind the world record of 2:05:38 set on a flatter London course Sunday by Khalid Khannouchi.

Locally, Lisa Valentine of Tierra Verde finished in 2:51:04 to pace the Forerunners Club to a second-place finish among women's teams. She finished eighth among women older than 40, 29th of 5,119 women finishers and first from Florida. Teammates Christy Phillips of St. Petersburg (2:54:04) finished 36th and Laure Blume of Pinellas Park (3:05:02) 72nd. St. Petersburg's Mary Ann Protz, 45, paced the Forerunners women's masters team with a time of 3:07:32 to crack the top 100, finishing 91st.

Coach Joe Burgasser, 63, also of St. Petersburg, of the Forerunners ran faster than his 60-69 age-group winning time of last year but came up 34 seconds short of a victory. He ran 2:55:55, but was passed in the last half-mile by Norwegian Oddvar Hausken, 60, who was timed in 2:55:21.

The top American, Keith Dowling of Reston, Va., finished 15th in 2:13:28. Jill Gaitenby of Northampton, Mass., was the first U.S. woman across the finish line, finishing 13th among women in 2:38:55

"I was not happy with my time," said Gaitenby, who had trouble with her heel and her breathing. "I almost dropped out at mile 24, but the fans kept yelling my name and yelling "U-S-A' and that really helped me out."

Rop and Okayo each won $80,000 for finishing first, and Okayo's course record was worth $25,000.

Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa was moving at a record pace in the men's wheelchair division but fell short and won in 1:23:19. Krige Schabort of Cedartown, Ga., was second in 1:26:04.

The women's winner was Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland in 1:45:57, followed by Christina Ripp of Urbana, Ill., in 1:49:32.

The temperatures of 53 degrees at the start and 56 at the finish were 15-20 degrees cooler than expected.

-- Correspondent Dave Theall contributed to this report.

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