- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

BOSTON — The talk of the town this weekend is the marathon. The talk of runners in town for tomorrow’s 109th Boston Marathon, as usual, is the weather.

Last year’s high of 83 degrees at the start in Hopkinton and 86 at the finish in downtown Boston bothered most of the 18,000-plus starters and ended the day for many, including several elite Kenyans at the front. It was the hottest marathon since 1976, causing a record number of heat-related illnesses.

Tomorrow’s conditions for the 26-mile 385-yard race should not be quite as severe, but the forecast of temperatures in the 70s is cause• for concern.

Race director David McGillivray stressed yesterday that race officials are more prepared for warm temperatures than ever before.

The heat certainly will be on the mind of defending champion Catherine Ndereba, who visibly struggled down the stretch with painful leg cramps and collapsed shortly after finishing in 2004.

Elfenesh Alemu will be the other thought on Ndereba’s mind.

“It’s quite different this year because everybody’s eyes are on me,” said Ndereba, a 32-year-old Kenyan who trains part of the year in a suburb of Philadelphia and part back home in Kenya. “Everybody wants to beat me.”

Ndereba has had one of the most decorated careers of any woman marathoner. Her most recent highlight came at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when she survived oppressive heat to win the silver medal. Alemu was fourth in that race.

Ndereba gained attention with her runner-up finish at New York in 1999. Then she won her first Boston Marathon in the spring of 2000 (by just 16 seconds) and won Chicago in the fall. She won both again in 2001, with the then-world record 2:18:47 at Chicago, and went on to win the 2003 World Championships. She ranks as the second-fastest woman marathon ever behind Paula Radcliffe.

Alemu ran tough here last year, leading for the first 16 miles and hanging with Ndereba until exactly a mile remained. Ndereba’s margin was again just 16 seconds over the Ethiopian, who would enjoy nothing more than preventing Ndereba from a record fourth laurel wreath.

Svetlana Zakharova of Russia, champion here in 2003, and Romanian Nuta Olaru, winner at last weekend’s Cherry Blossom and fifth here last year, also are contenders.

The payday for such a win is huge. John Hancock, in its 20th year as a race sponsor, has raised the prize money to $575,000 plus performance bonuses, with $100,000 going to the winners, an increase of $20,000.

Cash for second and third is not too shabby either, at $40,000 and $22,500, respectively.

Ndereba and Alemu will be part of the separate elite women’s start, at 11:31 a.m., as they were for the first time last year to give the elite women better visibility. The men and the rest of the women will take to the rolling country roads of Hopkinton at noon.

The best bet in town again is on the Kenyan men to pocket most of the prize money, as they have for the past decade. The Kenyans have swept the first four places over the past three years and have won every year since 1991 except for 2001.

Defending champion Timothy Cherigat, like Ndereba, knows he is running with a bull’s-eye on his back.

“Everybody is looking to beat you,” said Cherigat, 28, who improved from 10th place in 2001 to fourth place in 2003 to his upset victory last year. “I’m ready to defend my title, and we’ll see what happens on Monday.”

Cherigat knows predictions mean nothing here. He was not even a contender coming into last year’s race, with only the 11th best time in a field that included former champions Robert Kipkoech and Rodgers Rop.

He ran conservatively during the early stages of the race and then surged strongly in the middle, forcing the pack to chase him to the finish. Runner-up and fellow Kenyan Robert Cheboror followed more than a minute back.

Cherigat, with a marathon best of 2:09:34, is ranked just ninth this year by time, far away from Kenyan Wilson Onsare’s 2:06:47 time in Paris in 2003. But he will not have to contend with Cheboror, who withdrew because of “difficulties obtaining official travel documents,” according to race officials.

Alan Culpepper, who was 12th at the 2004 Olympics, is the top American contender.

World record-holder Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa will attempt his record fifth straight wheelchair triumph, and Cheri Blauwet of Menlo Park, Calif., will look for her second consecutive win among the woman.

Behind them will be as many as 24,425 starters from 80 countries, the second most entrants behind only the 100th running in 1996.

According to Patrick Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the marathon and related activities will bring approximately $88.5 million in direct and indirect economic impact to the region. More than 700,000 spectators are expected to line the course.

The Outdoor Life Network will run live coverage of the marathon. Additionally, OLN plans to televise portions of a first-of-its-kind Iraq/Boston Marathon in Iraq with an estimated 150 runners as part of the network’s coverage of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day.

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