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Ndereba, Ethiopia's Negussie Rule Boston

Kenyan 1st Woman to Win 4 Times

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page D07

BOSTON, April 18 -- In a city famous for its athletic dynasties, one reign continued Monday at the 109th running of the Boston Marathon while another suffered what could prove to be a symbolic blow.

Kenya's Catherine Ndereba, a former world record holder dubbed "Catherine the Great," used a devastating charge in the hills west of the city to win at Boston for the fourth time this decade. She became the race's first four-time women's champion, winning in 2 hours 25 minutes 13 seconds.

Catherine Ndereba makes her way along Boylston Street and toward the finish. She won the women's division in 2:25.13, 16 seconds ahead of Elfenesh Alemu. (Mike Segar -- Reuters)

Hailu Negussie, a rising Ethopian talent, disrupted a different sort of dynasty on a clear and sunny day in which the mercury inched up to 70. Kenyan men had won here 13 times in 14 years until the 25-year-old Negussie burst away from a pack of Kenyan challengers coming out of those same Newton hills to finish first in 2:11.45. Both winners earned $100,000.

And there were further signs of cracks in the Kenyan men's supremacy. Spurred on by roaring crowds chanting his name and that of his country, 32-year-old Alan Culpepper of Lafayette, Colo., became the first American man to crack the top five since 1987, finishing less than two minutes behind Negussie in fourth place.

After Kenyans had swept the top four spots in the men's marathon for three straight years, runner-up Wilson Onsare -- who was 36 seconds back -- and Benson Cherono (third) were by themselves in the top four.

"My personal view: I'm not surprised," said Onsare, who was making his Boston debut. "We're in an athletic world. It's normal for anyone to win."

The Kenyans were bookended by Negussie, the first Ethiopian men's winner since 1989, and Culpepper, part of an ever more impressive American marathon resurgence. Two more Americans -- Peter Gilmore and Ryan Shay -- were 10th and 11th, respectively, less than a year after Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor both medaled at the Olympic marathon.

No American man has won at Boston since 1983, but Culpepper, who was 12th in Athens, said, "it could happen any year now. We have the ability, we have the talent. . . . I think it's in the works for sure."

Ndereba's performance Monday was the most striking on a day that began with a celebration of the late Johnny Kelley, the marathon's most vibrant personality for much of the past century.

Kelley, who died last October at the age of 97, had finished this race 58 times, winning twice and coming in second seven times. This year, his face was drawn onto the starting line in Hopkinton and his signature tune -- "Young at Heart" -- serenaded the 20,453 entrants.

Whether Ndereba can become as beloved as Kelley in New England remains to be seen, but she delivered a breathtaking performance for a second straight year.

Last April, on an even hotter day with temperatures soaring into the 80s, Ndereba held off Ethiopia's Elfenesh Alemu to win by 16 seconds before collapsing upon crossing the finish line. The pair met again at the Olympics -- Ndereba won silver, while Alemu was fourth -- and were the clear favorites entering Boston.

Ndereba said her legs felt heavy at the start, and so Alemu and Romanian Nuta Olaru shot to the front, at one point stretching their lead over Ndereba and several others to about 80 seconds.

Just past the race's midpoint, Olaru began wobbling, then dropped behind. At about the same time, Ndereba left the pack and began closing on the leaders, a march that quickly gained an aura of inevitability. Ndereba's feeling of heaviness dissipated -- "I found myself running like normal, my body started responding," she said -- and Alemu repeatedly turned to glance at her pursuer.

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