- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 17, 2004

BALTIMORE — For more than a decade, John Itati has considered himself a miler. But after yesterday’s impressive triumph in his marathon debut at the fourth annual Baltimore Marathon, the 30-year-old Kenyan may consider going to longer distances.

Itati displayed great patience in the first half of the 26-mile, 385-yard race around the city’s hilly neighborhoods, then charged home in an event record of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 51 seconds to top 2,189 finishers.

Russia’s Ramilia Burangulova, 13 years his senior, also smashed the event record in the women’s competition. She dispatched two challengers in the last nine miles to finish in 2:40:21.

For Itati, a proficient road racer who came to America in 2001 and trains in Norristown, Pa., and Burangulova, a 20-year distance veteran who trains in Gainesville, Fla., as well as Russia, the $15,000 cash prize for the victory was the biggest paycheck ever.

Before yesterday, the longest race Itati had run was a half-marathon in Philadelphia on Sept.19, in which he placed fifth (1:02:04) Six days later he won the Pennsylvania Avenue Mile in the District. For his first marathon, Itati had a plan.

“I just kept with what I had in my mind,” said Itati, who smartly let Russian Mikhail Minyukhin run quickly out of sight for the first 16 miles.

Itati held to his convictions as Minyukhin built a huge 2:45 margin by the midpoint at the Inner Harbor with a 1:07:12 first half.

“I stayed with the pack [in the first half] and ran the second half fast,” Itati said. “I said to the guys, ‘We need to close.’ We couldn’t even see him.”

With Itati were countrymen Fred Getange, who was two places behind him at Philadelphia, Wilson Komen and Andrew Musuva, all credentialed marathoners.

Minyukhin knew exactly what he was doing. His strategy was no different than the one he employed at the Bonn Marathon in Germany, where he was victorious from the start in 2002, 2003 and last April. He won Bonn in 2003 with a personal best 2:14:44.

“After 16 miles, I started seeing him,” Itati said, as he approached Patterson Park. “At 18 miles, he looked behind and saw me.”

Minyukhin’s fate was sealed, and he knew it. His immediate thought: “Well this is it, they got me,” he said through an interpreter after the race.

At that point Itati was just 100 meters back, and Getange was following closely. By the time the runners scaled the top of the hill at Clifton Park, just a mile later, Itati was breathing down Minyukhin’s back.

A quarter-mile later, on an uphill, Itati sailed by. All that was left was to shake the 28-year-old Getange, who claims a personal best 2:13 in five marathons.

Itati started pulling away after a windy loop of Lake Montebello past the 21-mile mark. Two miles later, the lead was up to 24 seconds, then Itati locked up the victory with a 4:45 split in Mile 24.

Getange posted a 2:16:33 and Minyukhin ran 2:17:00. Komen, from the District, was fourth in 2:17:31.

Meanwhile, Burangulova was biding her time. She said through an interpreter she was happy to let Polish marathon veteran Violetta Kryza set the pace for much of the race, with another Russian, Victoria Zueva, in tow.

By 21 miles, Burangulova was firmly in the lead, but it wasn’t until just two miles remained that Zueva, fighting stomach cramps in her fifth marathon, jetted into second place. Zueva finished in 2:41:31, and Kryza was another 22 seconds back.

“I was going for the win, so the time wasn’t going to be fast,” said Burangulova, running in her fourth marathon in the past 12 months and 30th of her career.

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