- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

BOSTON While all eyes were on the woman known as Catherine the Great, her fellow Kenyan stole the 106th running of the Boston Marathon yesterday and chopped more than a minute off the eight-year-old course record.
In an epic battle over the last 10 miles of the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to downtown Boston, Margaret Okayo finally shed two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba at the 25-mile mark and flew through the finishing tape in 2:20:43.
Okayo's time was 62 seconds faster than German Uta Pippig's 2:21:45 in 1994, securing her place in history by tying Kenyan Tegla Loroupe for the fourth-fastest marathon time ever. In the process, she totally unraveled Ndereba, who dazzled the world in Chicago last October with a world record 2:18:47.
"I'm so happy because I ran my best time in Boston," said the 4-foot-11, 86-pound Okayo, who earned $80,000 for the triumph and another $25,000 for the record. "I was not expecting to run that fast."
Neither was Ndereba, the heavy favorite to three-peat, who ran stiffly down the last stretch along Boylston Street and ended in 2:21:12, also under the course record and the eighth-fastest in history.
Not to be upstaged, another two Kenyans Rodgers Rop and Christopher Cheboiboch broke from a pack of five Kenyans with five miles remaining. Rop grabbed the $80,000 first prize in 2:09:02. Cheboiboch trailed by just three seconds.
With Rop's victory, the Kenyan men once again regained superiority here. Last year, Korean Lee Bong-Ju ended the Kenyan's 10-year win streak.
But Lee was not much of a player in yesterday's race. He did help comprise a pack of two dozen men that began conservatively under cloudy noon skies. The cloud cover was so low that the Federal Aviation Administration delayed the helicopters broadcasting the marathon until well into the race, then ordered the choppers down again as the leaders were closing on the finish line.
At 18 miles and into the Heartbreak Hills, Rop pushed the pace and dropped the lead group to just eight men, all Africans. Lee and 2001 runner-up Silvio Guerra of Ecuador could not keep pace.
"They would not follow me anymore because the pace was too fast," said Rop, who set the world 25-kilometer record 11 months ago in Berlin.
A mile later, it was down to five Kenyans. Rop and Cheboiboch went head-to-head at Mile 21, then Rop took a slight lead, only to relinquish it two miles later. It wasn't until the last mile that Rop broke his countryman.
All Cheboiboch could do down the stretch was sprint valiantly after Rop, but he just ran out of pavement.
"When I ran that 25K last year, I knew I was capable of running 42K," said Rop, a 26-year-old Nairobi police officer who was third in New York last year in his marathon debut in 2:09:51. "But it's a difficult course compared with New York," added the 5-foot-8, 123-pound Kenyan, who began competitive running in 1999.
Behind Cheboiboch was a fierce battle for third all the way down Boylston Street, again between two Kenyans. Fred Kiprop and Mbarak Hussein, brother of three-time champion Ibrahim Hussein ('88, '91, '92), finished with the same time of 2:09:45, with Kiprop getting the lean for third. Lee was fifth in 2:10:30.
All the while, Okayo and Ndereba were making history. At 10 kilometers, the lead pack of Okayo, Ndereba, Ethiopian Elfenesh Alemu and Chinese Sun Yingjie was right on record pace. Yingjie led the foursome through a 70:40 half-marathon, 10 seconds under the record.
But it was Okayo who took over at Mile 17. By 20 miles, it was just Okayo, whose victory at New York City last November produced a 2:24:21 personal best, and the world record-holder Ndereba. They were a chilling 54 seconds under the record.
Just before 25 miles, as the course passed Fenway Park with the Red Sox clinging to a 4-3 lead over the rival Yankees in the ninth, Okayo made the move heard 'round the world. Within moments, the 25-year-old Okayo put Ndebera out of contention.
"I was happy that Margaret won," said a gracious Ndereba, 29. "I am not discouraged. My goal was to break the course record, and I did it. I felt something that was bothering my right hamstring, so I couldn't push it any harder."
For the Americans, it was Keith Dowling of Reston in 15th place in a personal best 2:13:28 and Jill Gaitenby of Northampton, Mass., in a disappointing 2:38:55.

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