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Champions again

Tanui regains Boston crown in fight to finish with Chebet

Men's Winner:Time:
M. Tanui, Kenya 2:07:34
Women's Results:Time:
F. Roba, Ethipoia2:23:21
Men's Wheelchair Time:
F. Nietlispach, Switzerland 1:21:52
Women's Wheelchair Time:
L. Savage, Australia 1:41:19

By Joe Concannon, Globe Staff

As Moses Tanui turned the corner on Hereford Street and started down Boylston Street to the finish of yesterday's 102d Boston Marathon, images were conjured up of another race, over a different distance, on the other side of the world. This was a moment for Tanui to call on the instincts of the track runner, which he summoned when he was chasing countryman Richard Chelimo in the 10,000 meters at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.

This time, in a duel for the ages, Tanui was running stride for stride with dogged compatriot Joseph Chebet in another Kenyan masterpiece. Just as Tanui had run down the teenaged Chelimo in Tokyo's National Stadium, this time he saw the finish line by the Boston Public Library and the track man in him took over. With 200 meters to go, Tanui shifted into a higher gear and raced home to win his second Boston in three years, posting the race's third-fastest time of 2 hours 7 minutes and 34 seconds.

Tanui, 32, continued the proud Kenyan tradition in this race and led Boston's closest top three finish in history. He, Chebet (2:07:37), and South Africa's Gert Thys (2:07:52) were within 18 seconds of each other to cap a marvelous race that saw Tanui turn in a classic performance born out of the experience that made him Boston's centennial man two years ago with his epochal triumph.

Terming it "a perfect day for racing,'' Tanui was content to sit back in the pack that went out on a blistering pace; Kenya's Philip Taurus, who didn't complete the course, led them through the half marathon in 1:02:44, which approximated world-record pace. Even though Tanui fell as much as 48 seconds behind, time was on his side as they headed into the Newton hills with 8 miles left under cool, relative calm conditions in which wind wasn't a significant factor.

"I picked up the pace,'' said Tanui. "They were running too fast.''

Cosmas Ndeti of Keyna, whose course record of 2:07:15 in 1994 was the centerpiece of his three consecutive Boston victories, dropped out at this juncture after running with Tanui for 17 kilometers. Ndeti, who may train in Albuquerque this summer to get away from the distractions in his hometown, developed stomach problems. He was joined on the sidelines by Mexico's Dionicio Ceron, who led gamely until the pace caught up with him.

Ceron dictated that pace with Taurus through the early miles, and New York City Marathon champion John Kagwe (fifth, 2:08:51) joined in a pack that eventually was thinned to 11. Tanui wasn't there.

By the time they went through 11 miles in Natick, Taurus led in 52:34 and was ahead of course-record pace. At 16 miles in Newton Lower Falls, the pack had broken up dramatically and the four up front were Chebet, Kagwe, Thys, and Brazil's Andre Ramos (fourth in a South American record time of 2:08:26).

When they headed up Hearbreak Hill and approached 20 miles, Tanui's presence began to be felt. As they ran downhill by the Boston College campus, Tanui trailed by 10 seconds or roughly 50 yards. He was still that far behind as they turned out of Cleveland Circle and headed down Beacon Street. This was where Tanui made his move, eventually catching the lead group 3 miles from the finish. Tanui and Chebet then pulled away from Thys.

"I knew the winner would come from behind, because it hurt,'' said Thys, who was fueled in part by the fact that he didn't complete the race in his previous visit four years ago. "I tried to hold back, but I couldn't. If I did, I would run alone. I had to stick with the group. I feel Moses could run the race, because he came from behind and didn't use up too much. He didn't go too fast in the first half.''

Tanui, who is the unofficial mayor of his home city, Eldoret, met the official mayor of Boston when Thomas Menino placed the laurel wreath on his head at the finish line.

"Today it was my day,'' said Tanui, who last year developed bronchitis a week before the race and faded to fifth. "I was confident I could get ahead. Maybe it was my lucky day. I knew [Chebet] was a very strong runner. I waited until 200 meters and then I just kicked.''

Lamented Chebet, "I lost it with about 100 meters to go.''

Yesterday's masterpiece, which was worth $80,000 in prize money to Tanui, was the latest jewel in the Kenyan crown; Kenyans have won the last eight Bostons, and since 1994, they have accounted for an astonishing 17 runners in the top five -- 17 out of 25 places.

As the saying goes in Swahili, ``Mambu Baddu.'' Translated, ``The best is yet to come.''