- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

BOSTON Long before the outcome of the race was known, long before the leaders reached the sacred Heartbreak Hills, long before most spectators had settled into their places, it was obvious the Kenyan men virtually would sweep the 107th running of the Boston Marathon.

They did not disappoint.

Eight Kenyan men placed in the top 10, their best showing ever in a race they have dominated in the past decade.

And had it not been for two Russian women, the African nation would have swept the women's race, too.

In the end, it was a runaway for Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot and Svetlana Zakharova, each of whom earned $80,000 for the win on a beautifully sunny day for running.

Neither, however, ran particularly fast, with Cheruiyot steadily finishing in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 11 seconds, the slowest winning time since 1997. Zakharova cruised home in 2:25:20, almost four minutes slower than she ran at Chicago last fall.

Behind Cheruiyot, Kenyans filled the top five places, as well as seventh through ninth. It took two masters runners 43-year-old Russian Fedor Ryzhov and 42-year-old Belgian-turned-American Eddy Hellebuyck to break the Kenyan hold on the top 10.

Kenyans also took seven of the top 10 spots in the 2000 race.

"In my lifetime, this is my second marathon," said Cheruiyot, a 24-year-old farmer who won his debut marathon in Milan last year (2:08:59) in a three-man photo finish. "I enjoyed it because I like the way people make encouragement along the way. They are happy about Africans, and I like that very much."

But yesterday, Cheruiyot was not interested in pulling out another photo finish. He gambled by surging at Mile 22, just after climbing for more than three miles in the Heartbreak Hills.

He threw in a 4:37 mile at the top of the hills, near Boston College, to break up a Kenyan contingent of six contenders.

Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai finished 23 seconds behind Cheruiyot. Three more countrymen joined in the celebration in the chutes before defending champion Rodgers Rop concluded in seventh place in 2:16:14, citing tight muscles for the last 11 miles.

Zakharova, on the other hand, looked anything but tight. Sporting a combination of grimace and smile through the 26.2-mile race, the Russian national record holder ran nearly identical splits for the first half (1:12:39) and the second half (1:12:41).

"When I saw I was all by myself," Zakharova said, "I was confident that I could win. Clenching my teeth I guess is my style. I can't tell what I do. When I reached close to the finish line I began to smile."

Russian Lyubov Denisova followed her home in 2:26:51, making it the first 1-2 effort by the Russians and the first Russian victory since Olga Markova earned the laurel wreath in nearly the same time in 1993.

Kenya took third and fourth with Joyce Chepchumba Koech and Margaret Okayo, then American Marla Runyan of Eugene, Ore., was fifth, the best placing for an American woman since two-time Boston champion (1979, 1983) Joan Benoit Samuelson nabbed fourth in 1991.

Local favorite Lee Di Pietro of Ruxton, Md., was disappointed with her time of 2:55:00, a 20th place effort but well short of the 2:48 or better she expected to qualify for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.

"I was right on target pace, but the last 10K was totally tough," said the 45-year-old Di Pietro, a tall triathlete who was hampered by the wind.

Frank Sprtel, a 30-year-old Takoma Park resident, also expressed his disappointment after the race. "Everything was going well until about 1:15 into the race when the wheels came off," said Sprtel, who has run 2:33:13 but could only muster a 2:47:13, good for 132nd overall.

One excited runner who set a personal best was former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and movie star Will Ferrell. Just a year and a half ago, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Ferrell ran 5:01:56. Yesterday, he triumphed with an impressive 3:56:12.

After the race, he amused the media, first apologizing to his fellow runners for passing gas on the course, then reflecting: "What do I say it's truly an amazing event. The crowds couldn't have been nicer."

Susanne Nearman contributed to this report.

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