|The Boston Marathon 2002 - Women
by John Elliott
Like the rest of the world, we thought that April 15, 2002 (aka the 106th Boston Marathon) was going to be another one of Catherine Ndereba's days to shine. Having won the Boston Marathon in 2000 and 2001, having set the women's marathon world record in her last outing, and having a PR that was nearly 5 minutes faster than her nearest competition, we thought there were only two questions to ask: "By how much would she beat the current course record?" and "By how much would she win the race?" Before we get to the end of the story, the answers: she would beat the previous course record by more than 30 seconds, and... well, you'll have to read on to see the answer to the second question...
From the beginning, Catherine Ndereba leads the race. She is, after all, the woman to beat. By the 10K mark (22:42), there are eight women near the lead. Ndereba runs just ahead of Elfenesh Aleum and Sun Yingjie; two seconds behind are Esther Wanjiru with Nuta Olaru and Margaret Okayo and a couple of seconds behind are Bruna Genovese and Firaya Sultanova. This is the women's field from the start. The average pace at this point is 5:25 per mile and the group is staying on pace to be able to challenge the course record.
Through 15K (50:23), Catherine Ndereba is maintaining the lead - probably trying to prove to the group that she is the strongest. Right behind Ndereba are Yingjie and Alemu - both strong runners, but not really in Ndereba's league. In a group a couple of seconds behind are Esther Wanjiru, Nuta Olaru and Margaret Okayo. With impressive times and experience, Wanjiru and Okayo could be in contention.
Through 12 miles (1:04:38), Ndereba still leads. The last mile was run in a quicker 5:24 and that brings the leaders through this mark 6 seconds ahead of Uta Pippig's pace when she set her course record in 1994. It's becoming clear that Ndereba has a plan, and she is running comfortably and smartly to break the course record. Right along with Ndereba at this point are Yingjie and Alemu, and Okayo is running a couple of seconds behind. The increased pace is enough to shake two runners: Wanjiru and Nuta have dropped back nearly 30 seconds and are clearly no longer in contetion to win this race.
Through 13 miles (1:10:02), Yingjie has moved to the front in a not very convincing attempt to show some authority. Ndereba, Alemu are right along with Yingjie and Okayo is running comfortably a few feet behind. The group is now 12 seconds ahead of the record pace.
Through 14 miles (1:15:17). Yingjie has picked up the pace and the last mile is run in 5:15. But this doesn't shake anyone, as the four leaders run in single file no more than 5 feet separating one runner from the rest. It seems a bit strange that the runners are spread out in this fashion, but there is no need to draft on this beautiful day with a slight tail wind and each runners is keeping some breathing room. The group is now 25 seconds ahead of the record pace!
Through miles 15 and 16, the group stays together with Yingjie and then Ndereba in the lead. Mile 16 is run in 5 minutes flat and that seems a bit fast for Yingjie and especially Alemu. The group is 47 seconds ahead of record pace.
By mile 17 (1:31:16), the leadership has changed as Okayo moves to the front, and, with Ndereba, begins to pull away from Yingjie and Alemu.
Mile 18 (1:36:44), Okayo and Ndereba have opened up a lead of nearly 30 seconds on Yingjie who is more than 10 seconds ahead of a seemingly fading Alemu. Okayo is leading, but Ndereba looks like she is just cruising behind, letting Okayo do the work.
Nothing changes through mile 24 (2:08:59), except that Okayo and Ndereba's lead increases mile after mile. Alemu is nearly 4 minutes behind the leaders and Yingjie is now about 5 minutes behind the leaders. Okayo and Ndereba are 42 seconds ahead of record pace, which should be theirs.
Just before mile 25, the course moves up a slight incline. At this point, Okayo puts in a little surge and Ndereba falls back, apparently beaten by the hill and by Okayo. Okayo moves through mile 25 in 2:14:22 and is already a few seconds ahead of Ndereba.
In the final mile, Okayo keeps up the pace and Ndereba falls back significantly - coasting to second place. Okayo completes the course in 2:20:43, knocking more than a minute off of Pippig's prior record of 2:21:45. Ndereba cruises in to finish in 2:21:12, well behind Okayo, but well ahead of the previous record. Elfenesh Alemu easily holds on to finish in third place in 2:26:01, while a slowing Sun Yingjie holds onto fourth in 2:27:26, ahead of fifth place finisher Firaya Sultanova (2:27:58). Jill Gaitenby arrives across the finish line in 13th place as the first American (2:38:55), followed a few minutes later by the second American woman, Gordon Bakoulis (2:42:47 - 14th woman).
Following the race, Margaret Okayo told the media that she was very happy to have set a new course record - something she did not plan. She said that she came to Boston hoping to gain some respect as a runner - and felt that she got it!
Catherine Ndereba was more than gracious, as she expressed her happiness and pride that teammate and fellow Kenyan Okayo won, and she was very happy that she surpassed the previous course record. She said that her right hamstring was bothering her in the final miles and she decided that she would not push the pace and that, in the end, she was happy with her decision.