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  103rd BOSTON MARATHON

The women's field

Fatuma Roba goes for No. 3, but there are those who would be No.1

By Joe Concannon, Globe Staff, 04/19/99

Thirty-three years ago, Roberta Gibb ran unofficially to become the first woman in the Boston Marathon. A year later, Kathrine Switzer obtained a number by signing her application ''K. Switzer'' in an era when the race didn't welcome women. Sixteen years ago, Joan Benoit Samuelson set a world record (2:22:43) on the course.

In recent years, however, very little Boston history has been made by American women.

The last US woman to win the world's oldest continuous marathon was Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach, who ran 2:34:06 on April 15, 1985. The closest since then has been Kim Jones, who posted runner-up finishes in 1991 and 1993.

All of which makes it intriguing to ponder what Lynn Jennings, who grew up in Harvard and now resides in Newmarket, N.H., might do in her long-anticipated marathon debut at age 38.

If Jennings performs as she did when she dominated the World Cross-Country Championships early in this decade, she could be a factor in a race she ran unofficially when she was just 17 (and finished in 2:46, which would have placed her third). But Jennings will have to put forth an outstanding effort to finish at the front of this formidable women's field.

The odds: 2-1

Fatuma Roba, Ethiopia (No. F1) - She has been the dominant figure in the women's field since Uta Pippig's three straight wins (1994-1996). Roba burst on the world scene by winning the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, then proved it was no fluke by winning the last two Boston runs. Last year, she ran almost even 5K splits for the entire race as she easily outdistanced the field to win by nearly four minutes in 2:23:21 after surviving a sore leg that nearly did her in prior to the race. She finished a disappointing eighth in the Tokyo Women's Marathon in November in 2:36:22, after a fourth in 2:30:39 the year before. When she won Boston for the first time in 1997 to end Pippig's streak, she won by 46 seconds over South Africa's Elana Meyer and became the first African woman to win Boston. Before she won at the Atlanta Games in 2:26:05, she had won Rome (2:29:05) and the Marrakech Marathon in Morocco (2:30:50) and was second to Tegla Loroupe by 42 seconds at the Lisbon Half Marathon (1:09:43) in 1997. In a Boston tuneup March 14, she won the Matuse Half Marathon in 1:10:54.

5-1

Colleen De R euck, South Africa (No. F4) - She was co-leader with Roba through the halfway mark last year in Boston but, after being stricken by nausea, faded to fifth in 2:29:43. De Reuck was third (2:28:03) the previous year after being outdueled by Meyer on Beacon Street. She ran her first Boston in 1994, finishing ninth in 2:31:53. She ran her personal best in Berlin in 1996and has been a frequent contender at the marathon distance. She won the 1997 Falmouth Road Race, and was runner-up in 1996 and '98, and established a world record for 10 miles (51:56) in the 1998 Cherry Blossom race in Washington, D.C. De Reuck is a citizen of South Africa but trains and lives at the altitude of Boulder, Colo. She's always competitive, and this could be her year to win Boston.

Franca Fiacconi, Italy (No. F5) - She seems to perform at her best in the major marathons. After finishing second (2:28:43) in the New York City Marathon in 1996 and third (2:30:15) the next year, she returned last year and shaved 2:55 off her previous best to win in the second-fastest time (2:25:17) in the race's history. She had already raced three marathons during the year. She won Rome in March, Turin in May, and was fourth in Budapest in August, nine weeks before her breakthrough victory in New York. She won marathons at Capri and Turin in 1996, and was 13th in the warm World Championship marathon in Athens. She is ready for this historic stage, where in 1990 countryman Gelindo Bordin became the first male Olympic gold medalist to win Boston.

Anuta Catuna, Romania (No. F3) - She was third a year ago in 2:27:34, but experienced her real breakthrough in New York in 1996 when she overhauled the touted Loroupe to win in 2:28:18. Catuna has been a consistent performer on the global stage for the past decade. She won the World Cup Marathon in 1995 in 2:31:10, leading her country to a 1-2-3 sweep of the women's team title. She followed up with a silver-medal performance in the 1995 World Championshhips in Gothenburg, Sweden. Also on her resume: a fourth in the 1994 New York City Marathon and an 11th in the 1997 World Championships.

8-1

Renata Paradowska, Poland (No. F2) - She staked her place on the world stage by finishing as the runner-up to Roba a year ago in Boston with a personal best of 2:27:17. She ran conservatively through the first half but employed her strength over the Newton hills, propelling her to the finish line. She was 11th in Budapest last August in 2:32:18, as she started to approach the marathon distance with seriousness. She previously had represented her country in international competition in events ranging from the 10,000 to the half marathon to cross-country. She also won the San Jose Mercury News 10K in March in 33:49.

Yuko Arimori, Japan (No. F6) - Her Olympic marathon success (silver in 1992, bronze in '96) has made her a superstar in a country that worships marathoners. Arimori became a national heroine when she won the silver in Barcelona in 2:32:49 over a course with a difficult final 4 miles. She won the bronze in Atlanta in 2:28:39 after overcoming several injuries in the intervening years. She had introduced herself with a sixth in the 1990 Osaka Ladies Marathon (2:32:51) and returned to the race the following year to establish a national record (2:28:01) while finishing second. She was fourth in the World Championships in Tokyo (2:31:08) later that year. She took a respite but now resides and trains in Boulder, Colo., with an eye toward the Olympic Games next year in Sydney at age 32. Boston will be her first marathon in two years.

10-1

Sun Yingjie, China (No. F11) - The great unknown. She is only 20 but has impressive times in all her races to date. She won the Tianjin Marathon a year ago in 2:25:45 and followed that with a victory at the Dalian International Marathon in 2:26:00. Chinese women have been a big part of recent athletic history, most notably in the World Track & Field Championships in 1993 and 1995. They rarely compete outside their country, and this represents a notable breakthrough for Boston, where the Japanese and Koreans have compiled enviable records. She and compatriot Ai Dongmei will be runners to watch.

Lynn Jennings, Newmarket, N.H.(No. F9) - This is the time to welcome a hometown favorite to the streets of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. She's 38 and has won the World Cross-Country Championships three times. The most notable was at Franklin Park in 1992, where she had run with the boys' cross-country team when she was growing up in Harvard. She's a three-time Olympian who has a 10,000 bronze medal from the Barcelona Games of 1992. She planned to make her official Boston debut a year ago, but withdrew. She was ninth in the Atlanta Games in the 10,000, and has won 39 national championships on the roads, the track, and the cross-country trails. On March 7, she won the Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville - a national championship race - by 51 seconds.

Franziska Rochat-Moser, Switzerland (No. F7) - Besides being an elite runner, she's a lawyer and owner of the gourmet restaurant Girardet in her hometown of Crissier, Switzerland. She earned notice in the United States with her win at New York in 1997 (2:28:42), but she's no stranger to Boston, either, with a fourth in 1995 (2:29:35) and a sixth in 1996 (2:31:33). She was 18th in the Atlanta Games in 1996 and set her personal best (and a Swiss record) by winning at Hamburg in 1994 (2:27:44).

Ai Dongmei, China (F12) - Like her compatriot Yingjie, she is unknown on American soil. She's just 21, but in her marathon debut in Beijing in 1997, she was third in 2:27:30. This was in the Chinese National Games, an event contested every four years. She ran 2:34:52 in the Dalian International Marathon last October.

15-1

Catherine Ndereba, Kenya (No. F26) - At 26, she's a veteran of the roads who is making her marathon debut and shouldn't be discounted. She ran the Boston course last fall to test it out and found it to her liking. In 1998, she was ranked as the world's No. 1 road runner by Runner's World and named Road Racer of the Year by Running Times. She enjoys crocheting and knitting ... and winning races.

Ludmila Petrova, Russia (No. F15) - She had a strong 1998, running three marathons. She set a course record at Moscow (2:30:54), ran her personal best (2:30:26) in the European Championships, and came back with a fourth at New York (2:31:09). She was a finalist in the 10,000 meters at Atlanta '96 and is considered a strong prospect for Sydney in 2000. Look for her to be a factor after a winter of training in Gainesville, Fla.

This story ran on page D10 of the Boston Globe on 04/19/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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