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Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Marathon race
a sight to behold

LET'S face it, marathoning is not the world's most popular spectator sport.

Except in Boston.

And the image of a marathon winner to the average person is probably a glassy-eyed, tottering soul gasping for air and crashing headfirst to the pavement at the tape.

That's OK. Runner's World is not threatening Sports Illustrated's circulation base.

But anyone with the aforementioned concept who happened to tune into ESPN2 early yesterday had to be stunned.

In the final mile of the men's and women's races in the 104th Boston Marathon, there were three runners sprinting for the finish line.

Sprinting, I said.

These men and women are anomalies of sport.

They can find enough spring in their legs and oxygen in their lungs after running 25 miles against an icy headwind to dash like they just kicked off from the blocks.

A lot of it has to do with altitude training. A lot of it -- as in the case of yesterday's male and female winners from Kenya -- has to do with not growing up spoiled.

I mean like Americans.

Kenyan kids don't drive to school when they're 16, and their families can't afford to buy them bikes.

So, they literally live on the run.

AND, by the way, in case you didn't know it, no American runner on the Boston, Honolulu, New York , London or Berlin marathon courses could hit the lead pack of African runners with a heat-seeking missile.

Honolulu and other races also have had two- or three-man sprint finishes among Africans the past few years. It's nothing short of sensational to watch.

Kenyans yesterday won the Boston men's title for the 10th consecutive year. Since 1991, only two Honolulu Marathon winners were not from Kenya.

Of course, they don't win every major race, as Portugal's Antonio Pinto proved last week in the Flora London Marathon. Pinto, who drinks a bottle of wine a day, ran the fifth-fastest marathon on record (2:06:36).

But even when they don't win, the Kenyan factor is electric in any race.

With their unpredictable surges and their relentlessly aggressive style, Kenyans unnerve other runners with their poise under the most stressful circumstances.

WHEN Kenyans Elijah Lagat (who's 33, by the way) and Moses Tanui (two-time Boston winner) were barreling down the Boylston Street home stretch yesterday with Ethiopian Gezahenge Abera, there was no hint of desperation. Lagat won it at the tape with Abera and three seconds separated the top three men.

The idea that any human could even get oxygen to his cranium after 26 miles of pounding macadam is a marvel to me.

But the women also are pushing the inside of the envelope.

Catherine Ndereba came from 52 seconds behind to overtake Olympic champion Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia and become the first Kenyan woman to win Boston.

And two-time defending Honolulu women's champ Irina Bogacheva, looking 10 years younger than her 38 years, caught Roba at the finish.

Bogacheva made a remarkable surge to get back into the race after almost being blown out of it in the hills of Newton. You could almost feel a lump developing in your throat as you watched her rapidly gaining on Roba and Ndereba in the final mile. That's heroic racing, and I'll watch it any day.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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