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Women: Little chance for broken record

By Michael Vega, Globe Staff, 4/17/2003

For so long, it seems, the 2-hour-20-minute marathon was a holy grail to most elite women runners. It was an unreachable goal. An impenetrable barrier. Until Japan's Naoko Takahashi set the world record by running the first sub-2:20 in the Berlin Marathon Sept. 30, 2001, with a winning time of 2:19:46.

A week later, Catherine Ndereba, the two-time winner of the Boston Marathon (2000-01), bettered Takahashi's mark by almost a minute when she won the 2001 Chicago Marathon in 2:18:47.

Last Sunday, though, Paula Radcliffe raised the bar to unimaginable heights in the London Marathon.

The 29-year-old Brit had marathoners the world over buzzing with talk of her other-worldly record performance in London, where she defended her title with a time of 2:15:25, becoming the first woman to run a 2:15. Radcliffe not only eclipsed her world record, which she set last year with a 2:17:18 in the Chicago Marathon, but she obliterated it by almost two minutes.

''That's unbelievable,'' said Elana Meyer of South Africa yesterday. ''It's shocking. It's a really great performance. I would be surprised if even she could break it. I think it's a record that's going to stand a while.''

Radcliffe finished almost four minutes ahead of Ndereba, the runner-up who ran a sub-2:20 (2:19:55), and six ahead of third-place Deena Droosin, whose 2:21:16 was good enough to supplant Joan Benoit Samuelson's American standard (2:22:43) set in the 1983 Boston Marathon. ''I think it's one of the biggest things to happen in women's sports,'' Meyer said. ''But when you take into consideration that Catherine also ran a 2:19 and with Deena breaking the long-standing American record, it was a truly historic race.''

But could such a race be run in Boston?

The 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Boylston Street is a hilly course that can pound a runner into submission. London would seem more conducive to record-setting conditions.

''London is a relatively flat and fast course,'' said Kenyan Joyce Chepchumba, a two-time winner of the London Marathon (1997, '99) who will be making her Boston Marathon debut in the 107th running Monday. ''It's not too windy, but sometimes it's cold and chilly. All I can say is that Paula ran a very good race and had a very good time. I don't know if anyone can break it, but there might be someone some day.''

It's not likely, however.

Radcliffe, after all, has posted three of the world's top five performances, with Ndereba owning the other two. In addition to her sub-2:20 performances last week in London and last year in Chicago, Radcliffe won last year's London Marathon in 2:18:56.

''You're going to need a perfect day, and a perfect performance,'' said Meyer of a scenario in which the record could fall. ''Surely, more women will be running in the sub-2:20s now, but it's not going to happen every day where a woman will pop off and run a 2:15.''

This story ran on page C11 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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