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Can Americans pull off huge upset?

Cox, Coogan aim for top-10 finishes

By Paul Harber, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

Josh Cox sat shoulder to shoulder with 31 of the world's elite marathon runners, the A-Rods and MJs of the huff-and-puff set, yesterday morning at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel.

''Americans, we want to be the best of everything,'' said Cox, ''but then you come into a room like this and see all these great athletes and you realize how much of an underdog we are.''

Cox, along with Mark Coogan, is hoping to pull off the mother of all upsets and win Monday's 106th running of the venerable Boston Marathon.

What are their chances? About the same as the Patriots had last September to win the Super Bowl after losing Drew Bledsoe to injury and Terry Glenn to indifference.

No American has won since Greg Meyer took home the title 19 years ago. The last American to finish in the top 10 was Bob Kampainen in 1994, when he took seventh in 2:08.47, which was 13 seconds faster than Meyer's winning pace.

''But when you look at what the Patriots pulled off in the Super Bowl against St. Louis, nobody expected them to beat up on the Rams. I sure didn't. We watched the game at home and sat there in disbelief,'' said the San Diego native.

''That's what we're going to have to do. We have to run a smart race if we want to have a chance,'' added Cox.

Cox surprised everyone a year ago when he led the field through Wellesley before he dropped to 12th .

''I think if I learned anything from that race, it was about running downhill. You run a lot of downhill on this course. You have to run a smart first half here. I think last year was great. I look at it as a learning experience and I hope it pays a lot of dividends on Monday,'' he said.

Cox doesn't think he'll make a push during the first 16 miles as he did last year. He hopes to make his move after that.

He is also looking at the long-range weather forecasts. ''If it's hot, it's not going to be a super-fast race. If it's going to be as hot as they say it is, you're going to need to get your fluids down, especially during the first 10 miles. The hotter it is, the smarter you have to race.''

A heat seeker

Malgorzata Sobanska of Poznan, Poland, isn't worried about the temperatures in the 70s that are being predicted for Monday afternoon. ''You run in the summer,'' said Sobanska. ''It won't change anything.''

Last year, Sobanska led for most of the first 14 miles before eventual champion Catherine Ndereba overtook her. Sobanska finished second in 2:26.42, which was nearly a minute faster than the personal best of 2:27.30 she ran at the 1999 Berlin Marathon.

''It was hot in Atlanta [for the Olympics, where she finished 11th],'' said Sobanska, who won the Cancun Marathon in 1999.

There have been several races when temperatures soared. The most famous of the beat-the-heat Boston Marathons was in 1976. It was called the ''Run for the Hoses,'' as temperatures neared 100. More than 40 percent of the 1,942 starters did not finish.

Jack Fultz won in 2:20:19, more than 10 minutes slower than the previous year and more than five minutes behind the winning time the following year.

In 1905, there are reports it reached 100 degrees. New York's Frederick Lorz, who was accused of cheating at the Olympics the previous year in St. Louis, outpaced a field of 84, winning in 2:38.25.

The most recent run in the sun was in 1989, when temperatures remained in the upper 80s, but the humidity soared to 95 percent.

It didn't have much of an effect on the outcome, as Abebe Mekonnen cruised to a 50-second victory over Juma Ikangaa, who was the bridesmaid three years in a row to three different champions.

Weather has always been a factor in distance running, and there have been unusual cases, such as 1939, when the skies in Hopkinton darkened. However, it wasn't a storm. It was a partial eclipse.

Uncut diamond

Johnny Kelley sipped on orange juice, telling stories about previous runs. ''When I was younger, they had a race from Lawrence to Salisbury and I won it by two seconds,'' said Kelley. ''They gave me a wonderful medallion as the champion with a diamond set in the middle of it. I was courting a young woman at the time and I went to a jeweler to see if he could take the diamond out of the medal and have him make something. But when the jeweler looked at it, he told me it was glass. Boy, was I mad.'' ... Kenya's Peter Githuka has withdrawn from the race because of a leg injury. He was sixth in 1999 in his only other appearance in Boston.

This story ran on page E11 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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