BOSTON -- With a little more than five miles remaining in the 96th Boston Marathon yesterday, defending champion Ibrahim Hussein and a steeplechaser from his home country of Kenya, Boniface Merende, had shaken perennial runner-up Juma Ikangaa.
Hussein, a veteran, signaled for Merende to move up and help with the pace. Merende balked, figuring if it came down to a sprint, he would have the advantage. After all, Hussein hadn't been on the track in five years.
That's when Hussein took off up the last of the three mounds known as Heartbreak Hill and closed out his third Boston Marathon victory in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 14 seconds.
Among the women, overwhelming favorite Wanda Panfil built a comfortable lead by charging through the first 16 miles in the identical time she posted last year, but suddenly faded.
Working off the late 5:52 and 5:54 miles of wobbling Panfil, Russian Olga Markova barged into the lead and won in 2:23:43.
Both winning times were personal bests and the second-best times recorded in the 26.2-mile race, that goes from the farmlands outside Boston to the Back Bay section of the city. The race records are Rob de Castella's 2:07:51 in 1986 and Joan Benoit Samuelson's 2:22:43 in 1983.
It was the fourth marathon for Markova, 23. Her first resulted in a course-record 2:37:06 victory at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington in 1990. She then did a 2:33:25 in Los Angeles last year, then a 2:28:18, good for second place in New York last fall.
Despite her exploits in this country, the track federation in the Commonwealth of Independent States is not happy with Markova, who has decided to conduct her career her way.
Booked into a race a couple of years ago, Markova set up training on her own in Florida.
She was able to place well enough in shorter road races in 1990 to make ends meet before clearing $70,000 in prize money last year. Her check yesterday was for $60,000. But, when time comes for the CIS to select its marathon entry for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, she might be bypassed.
From the outset, the men's race took on the appearance of a dual meet between Kenya runners and anyone else who wanted to try the treacherous pace.
Middle-distance runner Simon Karori sped to a 4:39 first mile and didn't look back until he passed 10 miles in 46:54 and the half-marathon in 1:02:41.
Always within sight but rarely pressing to challenge Karori were Ikangaa and Simon Robert Naali, both of Tanzania, Tesfaye Tafa of Ethiopia and four other Kenyans. The second favorite in the race, former winner Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia, laid back with a second group that had lost contact after the first hour of running.
By 15 miles, the lead pack was down to Hussein, Ikangaa, Merende and Sammy Nyangicha, another Kenyan. A mile later, the pack was down to three.
Ikangaa, who finished second in 1988-90, was the next to drop and, at Boston College, a great two-man finish seemed likely, perhaps even rivaling the 1989 event, when Hussein defeated Ikangaa by one second, in 2:08:43.
Hussein was having none of it, though.
"I've been focusing on this race for four months," said Hussein. "It seems no one takes me seriously as a marathoner. Now that I have won this race three times, maybe they will."
Joaquim Pinheiro of Portugal, who wasn't even in the top 15 at the 15-mile mark, finished second in 2:10:39. Also passing Ikangaa (2:11:44), who finished fourth, was Andreas Espinosa of Mexico (2:10:44).
Joseildo Rocha of Brazil was fifth in 2:11:53. Merende fell to sixth in 2:12:23. Mekonnen finished eighth in 2:13:09.
Yoshiko Yamamoto (2:26:26), Uta Pippig (2:27:12), Manuela Machado (2:27:42) and Margorzata Birbach (2:28:11) swept by Panfil (2:29:29) in the last five miles. It was the first time Panfil, of Poland but living in Mexico, had been beaten in her past six marathons.
In the wheelchair division, defending champion Jim Knaub shot out to the lead, and after six miles was out of sight of the field, as he won for the fourth time in 1:26:28.
He broke his own course record by more than four minutes. The Californian averaged about 3:24 per mile.
Jean Driscoll, who set a world record over the course each of the past two years, chalked up another by nearly six minutes with her time of 1:36:52. The effort was good for ninth place overall among the wheelchair racers.
NOTES: A total of 9,626 started the race, a record and up about 1,000 from 1991. . . . The prize money was split equally among men and women in the open, masters and wheelchair divisions. Each of the first six finishers received $60,000, $30,000, $18,000, $15,000, $12,000 and $10,000, respectively.