Cheruiyot of Fire: Kenyans still rule Boston

Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2003

BOSTON -- His name sounds like ''chariot,'' and he certainly rolled through the streets of Boston, from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill.

Robert Cheruiyot became the 12th Kenyan in 13 years to win the Boston Marathon on Monday, and his countrymen took the next four spots in the 107th running of the race.

With the top three finishers running for the first time in Boston, Kenyans seem poised to keep their grasp on the race.

''I was well-prepared,'' said the 24-year-old Cheruiyot (pronounced cheh-REE-yot). ''It is a marathon to make your name known in the world.''

Svetlana Zakharova of Russia won the women's race to prevent a second straight Kenyan sweep. Marla Runyan, who is legally blind, was fifth -- the best finish for a U.S. runner since 1993.

The men's and women's winners in the field of 20,260 each won $80,000.

Cheruiyot pulled away from Timothy Cherigat at the 22-mile mark, led by 16 seconds with 1 1/2 miles left and won by 23 seconds in a time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, 11 seconds.

''I like the way people make encouragement along the way,'' Cheruiyot said. ''They are happy about Africans and I like that very much.''

Cheruiyot won his only other marathon, last December in Milan, and primarily has competed in 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) races, and half-marathons.

But he handled the longer distance extremely well even though the temperature at the noon start in Hopkinton, 26.2-miles west of the finish line, was 70 degrees with a light wind.

It rose to 71 as the runners reached the midpoint, then dropped to 58 as the leaders approached the finish.

Benjamin Kimutai finished second, Martin Lel third, Cherigat fourth and Christopher Cheboiboch fifth.

Another Kenyan, Vincent Kipsos, came into the race with the best time of any runner in the field and set a fast pace. He led for most of the first half, then dropped out at about 14 miles.

The first non-Kenyan to finish was 43-year-old Fedor Ryzhov of Russia, who came in sixth and also won the men's masters division.

''It was a surprise for him to be in the top 10,'' Ryzhov said through an interpreter.

Ryzhov finished one place ahead of 27-year-old defending champion Rodgers Rop of Kenya. But at one point, 15 1/2 miles into the race, Kenyans held the first nine spots.

Eddy Hellebuyck, a native of Belgium who became a U.S. citizen in 1999, was the first American to finish, coming in 10th.

''It's disappointing,'' said Hellebuyck, who lives in New Mexico. ''I'm representing the U.S. and I'm 42 years old. Where is everybody?''

Kimutai, the runnerup in 2:10:34, was blunt when asked if Kenyans always would win the Boston Marathon.

''No,'' he said. ''Coming to Boston is how prepared are you mentally and physically. It can't always be Kenyans.''

At least in the women's division.

Zakharova snapped Kenya's three-year winning streak as Russians took the top two women's spots and four of the top seven.

''It's a difficult course,'' said Zakharova, whose time of 2:25:20 beat runnerup Lyubov Denisova of Russia by 1 minute, 31 seconds. ''Russian women like to go through certain difficulties. Maybe that's the reason.''

Another Russian, 41-year-old Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova, finished seventh overall and was first in the masters competition at 2:31:30.

The only other Russian woman to win the Boston Marathon was Olga Markova in 1992 and 1993.

Kenyan women finished third and fourth -- Joyce Chepchumba and defending champion Margaret Okayo. Americans took three of the top 10s spots, including Runyan's fifth-place finish.

Runyan trailed a bicyclist who provided her with her times at the checkpoints and guided her to her water bottles.

''My greatest difficulty today was really physical,'' said Runyan, who felt a stitch in her side between miles 16 and 17. ''I was changing my stride to alleviate that.''

She traded positions with Okayo and the two Russians until Zakharova pulled ahead at the halfway point.

''I think the problem was I started so fast,'' Okayo said.

In the men's wheelchair competition, South African Ernst Van Dyk earned his third consecutive victory in 1:28:32. Krige Schabort, a South African who lives in Cedartown, Ga., was second in 1:30:07. Around mile 11 in the race, Schabort struck a 7-year-old girl who was trying to cross the course. The girl was treated at Metro West Medical Center and released.

Christina Ripp of Savoy, Ill., who finished second last year, won the women's wheelchair race in 1:54:47. There were three competitors, and Cheri Blauwet of San Lorenzo, Calif., was second in 1:54:57.

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