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 by three seconds over 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 Monday 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 race.
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 and faster London course Sunday by Khalid Khannouchi.
Hussein is the brother of Ibrahim Hussein, who started Kenyan's dominant decade by winning in 1991. He repeated the next year.
''I thought if I won, it's 10 years and I'll start a tradition of my own,'' Hussein said, ''but the lucky one was Rodgers.''
The top American finisher, 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 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, while 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 temperature of 53 degrees at the start and 56 at the finish was 15-20 degrees cooler than predicted. The low cloud cover forced race helicopters to be grounded several times, limiting TV coverage.
The clouds also forced cancellation of a fighter jet flyover before the race, another patriotic touch planned for the event that was last won by an American, Greg Meyer, in 1983.
An unusually large pack of men stayed together for much of the race, with 14 in the group at 17 miles, and eight -- all Kenyans -- were separated by four seconds at 19 miles.
Three miles later, it was a two-man race between Rop and Cheboiboch. When Rop pulled away, he gestured to his countryman to join him.
''Running alone is a bit tiring,'' Rop said. ''I had to tell him to come so we could push together.''
But Cheboiboch didn't have the energy and trailed by about 200 yards at the 23-mile mark.
A runner in traditional colonial garb carries a flag past the starting line in the 106th Boston Marathon Monday, April 15, 2002 in Hopkinton, Mass. The 106th Boston Marathon is expected to bring out 15,000 athletes from all over the world.
AP Photo/ Victoria Arocho
''I was happy with my time because it was my personal best,'' said Cheboiboch, who made a desperate sprint with less than a mile to go. ''I thought I could catch Rop, but my time is fine.''
Ndereba didn't seem disappointed either, despite failing to become the third straight woman, following Pippig and Fatuma Roba, to win three Boston Marathons in a row.
The field of about 17,000 included about 600 law enforcement officials who supplemented the unprecedented force that provided security. There was ''no suspicious activity whatseoever,'' said David Goggin, assistant secretary of public safety for Massachusetts.
Rop is a policeman in Nairobi.
''Most of my time is practicing and competing,'' he said, although he does ''maintain law and order.''
Twenty years ago, order at the Boston Marathon meant U.S. domination. In one of the most exciting finishes, Alberto Salazar beat Dick Beardsley by two seconds in a time of 2:08:52 in 1982.
On Monday, Beardsley, 46, was thrilled to finish 912th in 2:58:48 while Kenyans took nine of the top 13 spots.
''I'm just one of the regular runners now,'' he said.
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