Kenyan out-puffs Combs, wins NYC

Posted: Monday, November 03, 2003

NEW YORK Margaret Okayo surged past her closest competitors and took the lead with about seven miles to go in the New York City Marathon.

There was no doubt she would win. Only one question remained: What would the new course record become?

Okayo shattered the mark she set here in 2001 by nearly two minutes Sunday, finishing in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 31 seconds, and then dropped to her knees to kiss the ground. She led a Kenyan contingent that again dominated the race. Countryman Martin Lel won his first marathon ever, finishing in 2:10.30.

Perhaps Okayo should be nicknamed The Course Record Breaker. She also holds record times in the Boston Marathon and the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

''I didn't know I was going to break my own record, but I was just trying to do my best,'' Okayo said.

Reigning world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya was second among the women in 2:23:04, followed by Lornah Kiplagat, a native Kenyan who became a Dutch citizen this year, in 2:23:43. They also beat the previous course record.

''It's such an honor,'' Ndereba said about the Kenyan dominance. ''We are very proud of us. We feel we've made our flag fly high.''

With 35,104 entrants for the 26.2-mile run through the city's five boroughs including producer-rapper Sean ''P. Diddy'' Combs Okayo beat a strong field. And she did it on a warm day, with the temperature in the 60s.

Following Lel, defending champion Rodgers Rop of Kenya was second among the men in 2:11:11 and countryman Christopher Cheboiboch was third in 2:11:23.

Seven of the top 10 men and four of the top 10 women were from Kenya. Five of the last seven men's champions have been from Kenya. The top three men last year were from Kenya.

''I am very happy because for sure we are representing our country,'' Lel said.

The top American man was Matt Downin of Bloody Brook, N.H., in 17th place in 2:18:48. The best U.S. woman was Sylvia Mosqueda of Los Angeles in 10th place.

Lel and Okayo each won $100,000, with Okayo getting a $60,000 bonus for finishing under 2:23.

''The Americans have to get to work,'' Mosqueda said. ''Kenyans run well, Russian women run well. They do their homework. They run fast, they deserve it. It's really going to take Americans to have a really great day to really come and catch these Kenyans.''

Nine runners were bunched through the first half of the women's race, including Okayo, Kiplagat, former winner Ludmila Petrova, Ndereba and 2002 NYC Marathon winner Joyce Chepchumba.

At the halfway mark, the women were on pace to set the record after covering 13.1 miles in 1:12:04.

Okayo, Kiplagat and Petrova pulled away from the front-runners at the 17-mile mark. Ndereba started to make a move around mile 18.

But Okayo turned it on. She overtook Kiplagat for first and cruised to victory. Last year, she finished fifth after having back problems and was taken to the hospital after the race.

This year, she spent three months training for the NYC Marathon in the northern Italian town of Brescia.

''She's a strong runner up and down hilly courses like this,'' said her coach, Gabriele Rosa. ''Good for Athens, that's a hilly course, too. She'll run the marathon in the Olympics.''

It was not a good day for the American women. Marla Runyan, who finished fourth in New York last year and fifth in Boston this year, was among the early leaders. But she tangled with Ndereba at a water station at the 8-mile mark and fell behind.

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