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WOMEN

Okayo KOs course record in her debut

By Joe Burris, Globe Staff, 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

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In her Boston Marathon debut, Margaret Okayo of Kenya took the lead yesterday around Route 128, setting up a two-woman, high-speed chase into Newton. The odds favored the chaser, countrywoman and two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba, who followed Okayo like a Southeast Expressway tailgater, a couple of steps behind, primed to pass at any moment.

The chase continued until the final water station, just before Kenmore Square. Okayo ran past the tables and scooped up her refreshment in stride. Ndereba, meanwhile, had to run across the course to the tables and appeared to break stride, giving Okayo her first bit of breathing room.

Moreover, Ndereba began to struggle with a nagging right hamstring and quickly faded over the last mile. That put Okayo at center stage, and making her the chaser: chasing Uta Pippig's eight-year-old course record.

Okayo easily surpassed the mark when she finished in 2 hours 20 minutes 43 seconds and in the process became the second Kenyan woman to win Boston.

''I'm very happy to have set the course record. I didn't expect it,'' said Okayo, who, along with men's winner Rodgers Rop, joined Cosmas Ndeti (1995) and Elijah Lagat (2000) as the only Kenyans to win in their Boston debuts. ''The course was fine, even if it was a hard course.''

Ndereba finished second in 2:21:12. Ethiopia's Elfenesh Alemu finished third in 2:26:01.

Okayo entered Boston having won three of five marathons, including a victory in last fall's New York City Marathon. She finished second in Chicago (1999), third in New York (2000), and twice won San Diego's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon (2000 and last year).

''I came to Boston looking for respect as a runner and I felt I got it,'' said Okayo. Her record-setting pace is more impressive considering Okayo said she never gave a thought to Ndereba running in her shadow for more than 6 miles.

''I knew that even if she [passes and] finishes with a 2:21, I would finish with a 2:22, so she was helping me,'' said Okayo.

But she said she never made a point of determining where Ndereba was. There was one moment in the race, when the two runners reached the first Newton hill, that Okayo turned to her left, where Ndereba was hanging just over her shoulder.

Okayo extended her left arm and motioned with her hand. She was merely wringing her hand, she said after.

''I never looked back to see where Catherine was,'' said Okayo. ''I was just focused on running my own race.''

Ndereba was attempting to become the third woman to win the race three consecutive years and entered the race with much fanfare after setting a world record in the Chicago Marathon in October. That was why through the two-woman race it appeared Ndereba was merely waiting for the opportune time to soar past Okayo.

''There was a lot of pressure on me, not just back home but from the other competitors,'' said Ndereba, who bettered Pippig's mark by 33 seconds. ''I came here to break the course record and I did.''

Boston Athletic Association official Jack Fleming said elite water stations are set according to number, odds on one side of the course, evens on the other. Okayo, who wore No. 6, retrieved water on the right. Ndereba, who wore No. 1, retrieved water on the left. He said the move is to avoid pileups at elite stations.

Ndereba was hampered by water station woes earlier in the race. She was in front on the right side of the course just before the Mile 13 marker, with China's Sun Yingjie close behind, when she came to the next water station. Ndereba ran over to the station and almost squared her shoulders to the table while picking up her bottle. Yingjie picked up hers in stride and passed Ndereba.

The Kenyan quickly regained the lead, and Okayo passed Yingjie, giving chase to Ndereba. Yingjie finished fourth.

After taking the lead, Okayo kept running from one side of the course to the other, with Ndereba for the most part following her every move. Between Route 128 and Boston College, the two switched sides nine times.

Asked about the zigzagging, Okayo said, ''I was crossing over because I was looking for water.''

Ndereba appeared to be looking for a moment to pounce while following her countrywoman. But the speed and distance began to take a toll. ''The last mile, I had problems with my right hamstring,'' said Ndereba. ''I didn't want to push anymore.''

Afterward, Ndereba gave Okayo a warm embrace and appeared ecstatic for her countrywoman. ''I am very happy and proud that Margaret won,'' she said. ''Not only because she is a fellow Kenyan but because we are on the same team. When I heard the anthem, I felt proud for her.''

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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