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BOB RYAN

Their absence didn't last long

4/16/2002

   
 TOP FINISHERS

Men  |  Women  |  Wheelchairs  |

 COVERAGE

Women: Okayo KOs course in debut
Men: Rop puts Kenyans back on top
Runner-up: Ndereba is still first-rate
Ryan: Their absence didn't last long
US runners: Support not there
Beardsley: He returns for more fun
Masters: At 43, Kipkemboi in prime
Wheelchairs: VanDyk wins again
Notebook: Runners kept their cool
The start: Meeting first challenge
First-person: To end, the hard way
Heartbreak Hill: Over the top
SporTView: Coverage lagged
Faces in pack: Miles of smiles

 PHOTO GALLERIES

Memorable moments
During the race
Before the race
Sunday pasta party
Sports & Fitness Expo

NAIROBI-ON-THE-CHARLES - In case you were wondering, it was a one-year loan.

This Lee Bong Ju seems like a pleasant enough chap, and you've got to love a guy who's planning on getting married before 20,000 people at Seoul Olympic Stadium. (Would I make this up?) But in case the South Korean had any foolish ideas about becoming a repeat Boston Marathon champion, the Kenyans let him know who's boss. Whatever went wrong last year went right this year. The Kenyan marathoning world is back on its proper axis.

The horrible one-year Boston Marathon drought is over. A Kenyan won. A Kenyan finished second. A Kenyan finished third. A Kenyan finished fourth. A Kenyan finished sixth. A Kenyan finished seventh. Mr. Lee was allowed to finish fifth.

And that was just the men. In the women's race, Kenyans finished 1-2. Kenya rules. Any questions?

Your new men's champion is Rodgers Rop, whose racing reputation was fashioned on half-marathons. This was only his second marathon. His first was last fall's New York City affair. Compared with that experience, he said Boston is a ''difficult course.'' But not too difficult, apparently.

He is said to be a police officer back home in Nairobi, but if you go there don't be looking for him to be hanging out in whatever the homeland version of Dunkin' Donuts happens to be. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, in Kenya, great runners run, and Rodgers Rop is no exception. He was kinda stumped when asked to describe his police duties, but in due time the light bulb in his head flicked on. ''I help maintain law and order,'' he declared.

Good to know.

The female winner was Margaret Okayo, a rather compact bundle of energy at 4 feet 11 inches and 86 pounds. She arrived here as the reigning champion (and course record-holder) in New York, and now she leaves Boston with the same distinction. But even more impressive than her winning time of 2 hours 20 minutes 43 seconds was what she did to two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba, whom she completely destroyed in the final mile and a half after the two had run in virtual lockstep for many miles.

''I'm very happy to have set a course record,'' she said. ''I didn't expect it.''

I'm not sure whether we should buy that. She seems like a supremely confident woman. ''I knew that I trained well for me to run well,'' she admitted. ''I felt strong all the way and very comfortable.''

Rop looked equally comfortable, breaking away from Christopher Cheboiboch at the 22-mile mark. Rop was in complete control, in part because he knew where his chief rival was at all times. By one unofficial count, he turned his head to note his countryman's position 17 times. But at no point did he appear to labor. When the race was over, he looked as if he was game for another quick 5K.

Okayo used a completely different tactical approach. She kept her eyes on the road, never turning to acknowledge Ndereba, who was never more than a step or two behind, mile after grueling mile.

''I never looked back to see where Catherine was,'' said Okayo. ''I was just focused on running my own race.'' She looked as fresh as Rop did. If someone had said, ''Race you to Logan Airport,'' she could have handled it.

This had to have been a long year for the Kenyans, whose domination of the Boston Marathon had become one of the great givens in all of sport. Mr. Lee's triumph last year interrupted a run of 10 consecutive Kenyan victories. The Korean is a quality runner, but a Kenyan is a Kenyan, and these folks like to make it clear that they own the distance-running world.

Finishing second didn't seem to bother Ndereba, who made it a point to hug the woman who had just gotten through trashing her out on the course. ''I am very happy and proud that Margaret won,'' Ndereba insisted. ''We are on the same team. When I heard the Kenyan anthem, I felt very proud. It is great that a member of the Kenyan team won.''

It wasn't as if she had a bad day. First of all, she ran as well as she could until her right hamstring acted up. Secondly, there was nothing wrong with her time (2:21:12).

''I came here to break the course record,'' she said, ''and I did.''

Cheboiboch could relate. ''I came here thinking I could run an :08, but, unfortunately, I ran an :09,'' he said. ''This is still my personal best [2:09:05], so I am happy with my time.''

When will this Kenyan tyranny end? Whatever happened to the Finns, the Japanese, the Mexicans, and the Ethiopians? And don't even ask about the Americans. By our sadly reduced standards, we actually had a good day. But the Bill Rodgers heyday seems as if it took place sometime back near the Civil War. It's hard to get excited when the first American - Keith Dowling (2:13:28) - finishes 15th.

It's a Kenyan racing world, and now it is being actively replenished by younger stars. The fourth-place finisher was Mbarak Hussein, and the sixth-place finisher was Elias Chebet. Each has an older brother who has won this race.

And there might be a younger brother, a nephew, or a next-door neighbor back home who could win the race in 2004, 2008, or 2012. Let's hope Mr. Lee enjoyed his year as Boston Marathon champ. Rodgers Rop has restored, yup, law and order to the marathon world.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

This story ran on page D2 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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