- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

BOSTON — Coming off Newton’s Heartbreak Hill, Catherine Ndereba glided gracefully through the streets of Boston without wincing or showing a trace of pain. There were no problems like last year’s horrific final mile, when her legs cramped at the finish line and she departed the scene in a wheelchair.

Ndereba was triumphant again yesterday, strolling down the last stretch of the 26-mile, 385-yard Boston Marathon with a smile and appearing as fresh as she had been at the start in Hopkinton two hours, 25 minutes and 13 seconds earlier.

It was a sweet reward for Ndereba, the 32-year-old Kenyan who became the first woman to win four Boston Marathons. Her time was nowhere near her best on this course — a runner-up effort of 2:21.12 in 2002 — because she started conservatively despite cooler temperatures than last year’s. But the result was most satisfying nonetheless.

“First of all, it felt like my legs were heavy,” said Ndereba, who finally caught and passed her only competition, Ethiopia’s Elfenesh Alemu, before the 20-mile mark. “I didn’t like to take a chance of pushing it. I kept on doing it, running it easy. I kept on trying to push the pace. And toward the finish, I just felt great.

“Last year was kind of tough for me because it was humid,” said the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, who earned $100,000 for the win. “Toward the finish, everything was gone from my body. This year I thank God that the problem was gone from this race.”

Alemu, just 16 seconds behind last year, was nearly two minutes back this time in 2:27:03.

That an African man won at Boston for the 16th time in 18 years was no surprise. That he was not a Kenyan was.

The laurel wreath went to Ethiopia’s Hailu Negussie, just the second time in 15 years a Kenyan did not break the tape in front of the Prudential Building. However, Kenyans took five of the top seven spots.

Negussie emerged from the pack after 21 miles near the top of Heartbreak Hill and cruised to the win in 2:11:45. It was the slowest winning time since Toshihiko Seko of Japan won the 1987 race in 2:11:50.

The 25-year-old Negussie, fifth last year, earned $100,000 for placing first, becoming the first Ethiopian to win the race since Abebe Mekonnen in 1989.

Alan Culpepper of Lafayette, Colo., was the biggest surprise with a fourth-place finish, the best result for an American male since Dave Gordon also was fourth in 1987.

“I heard my name and ‘USA’ a lot,” said Culpepper, who was as far back as 10th at 15 miles. “There were definitely some points when I was feeling really bad. I had a lot of bad patches. The crowd was a huge variable. It helps you zone out.”

Wilson Komen, a 27-year-old Kenyan who frequently trains in the District, hung with the leaders through the halfway mark and finished 16th in 2:19:41.

Not far behind were local runners Eric Post and Michael Wardian, who were the top Americans last year. Post, of Centreville, Va., was 24th in 2:25:22, and Wardian, of Arlington, was one place and 21 seconds behind.

“It went great. I didn’t do as well place-wise as I wanted to, but I did run a [personal best] on the course by four minutes,” said Wardian, 31. “I cannot believe Post beat me with 2K to go. He just went truckin’ by, and I tried to keep up with him.”

Lee DiPietro, 47, of Ruxton, Md., was fourth among women 40 and older and 20th overall in 2:53:34.

“I thought I could go under 2:50, but the wind kind of got to me,” the 6-foot-2 DiPietro said. “With the separate women’s start, there’s nobody to hide behind. The women come up to my belly button.”

Arlington resident Kerri Strug, a 1996 Olympic gymnastics gold medalist, was disappointed with her time, which was about six minutes slower than last year’s 4:14:31.

“It was very cold in D.C., and I didn’t run once outside,” said Strug, 27, who works at the Department of Justice. “I ran on the treadmill, and I guess it’s not the same. I walked from mile 21 to 25. I’m bummed that I walked so much.”

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