- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

BOSTON Some 20,000 athletes will gather this morning in chilly Hopkinton, Mass., awaiting the noon start of their own 26-mile, 385-yard odyssey eastward to Boston.
A few dozen runners have come here for a chance to win the 107th running of the world's oldest and most prestigious endurance event. Others have come here to improve on their previous marathon times. Some have come here to demonstrate their dedication to and focus on a person, a cause or an event which has changed their lives.
Today's field is the second-largest in Boston history, thanks to the loosening of qualifying standards for the 45-and-over enthusiasts. The largest field in Boston history and marathon history, too was the 40,000-runner field assembled for the 100th running of this race in 1996.
Security is expected to be tight, with the National Guard lining the course and security personnel close by, although marathon organizers have said they have not received any specific threats.
For world-class Kenyan runners and defending champions Rodgers Rop and Margaret Okayo, the goal is simple and pure: another victory and $80,000 paycheck.
Rop emerged from a pack last year to finish in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds. He went on to win the New York City Marathon some six months later in a personal best 2:08:07, the fourth man to win at Boston and New York back-to-back.
The 26-year-old also became the second Kenyan champion here to name his newborn son "Boston." Three-time champion (1993-1995) Cosmas Ndeti named his newborn son "Gideon Boston" after his first triumph here.
Kenyan Vincent Kipsos has run faster than anybody in the field, after a personal best of 2:06:52 in Berlin last year.
Kenyan men have won Boston 11 times in the last 12 years. The last time an American man or somebody from the Western Hemisphere won this event was in 1983, when Greg Meyer ran 2:09:00, the eighth-fastest winning time here and two seconds faster than Rop ran last year.
Okayo ran a brilliant race here last year to upset two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya. Okayo, who had run in Ndereba's shadow for years, shocked onlookers by running 2:20:43. It was not only a personal best by well more than three minutes, but it also shattered Uta Pippig's 1994 course record of 2:21:45.
The American women have their best contingent in years, with the No.2 ranked Marla Runyan leading the way. In her first and only marathon, she placed fourth in New York City last fall in 2:27:10, the second-fastest debut by an American woman and the fifth-fastest American women's time in history.
The legally blind woman said Friday she hopes to knock two to three minutes from her New York time.
South African Ernst Van Dyk will try to make it three in a row in the wheelchair division.
Bethesda resident Bennett Beach will attempt to complete his 36th consecutive Boston Marathon second on the all-time streak list to Neil Weygandt, who has one more.
Other runners who expect to be slugging it out over the revered Heartbreak Hills today include 31-year-old Claudia Williams, a k a baseball legend Ted Williams' daughter, who has been training in Hernando, Calif., to run for her father's beloved charity for cancer research, the Jimmy Fund.
Williams did not get in on a fee pass, either. She qualified for this year's race while running her first marathon, the Tybee Island (Ga.) Marathon in February the final weekend of the qualifying window with an impressive time of 3:38:26.
For mid-pack comic relief, runners may be humored by the company of a 35-year-old funny guy from Irvine, Calif. Actor and comedian Will Ferrell is scheduled to run with his wife, Viveca Paulin.
In their first marathon, the 2001 New York City Marathon, Ferrell and Paulin both finished with a time of 5:01:56. They also completed the 2002 Stockholm Marathon last June with a time of 4:28:02.
Ferrell is best known for his work on "Saturday Night Live," including his performances as Craig, the Spartan Spirit cheerleader, and his impersonations of President George W. Bush and "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.

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