Kenyans sweep top spots in marathons

2007 Baltimore Marathon men's winner John Itati (left) hugs Gladys Asiba, winner of the women's race, as Carolyn Mather, a volunteer assisting the runners, looks on moments after Asiba crossed the finish line.
2007 Baltimore Marathon men's winner John Itati (left) hugs Gladys Asiba, winner of the women's race, as Carolyn Mather, a volunteer assisting the runners, looks on moments after Asiba crossed the finish line. (Sun photo by Kim Hairston)
The three years that passed since John Itati ran through the streets of Baltimore didn't tarnish his memory. The same mile marker brought the same surge past the rest of the field and the identical feeling that he couldn't lose.

Itati, a native of Kenya, won the men's marathon yesterday in the seventh annual Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival, taking the lead at the 15th mile and finishing almost four minutes ahead of countryman Josphat Ndeti.

Another Kenyan, Gladys Asiba, won the women's marathon in a much tighter race, finishing less than a minute ahead of Anastasiya Padalinskaya of Belarus.

Itati, 33, won yesterday's race in 2 hours, 16 minutes, 24 seconds, the third-best time in the marathon's history, after passing Ethiopia's Mesfin Hailu on Boston Street in Canton and pulling farther ahead with a 4:58 split at the 21st mile marker - the first sub-5:00 of the morning.

"The weather was cold and windy, so I knew it was going to be tough," said Itati, who drove here from Philadelphia. He also won in 2004, finishing in 2:14.51, an event record that was later eclipsed.

Ndeti, 31, overtook Hailu for second place at the 22nd mile marker. And he ran with a heavy heart.

His younger brother Nicholas died Tuesday after contracting malaria and was buried yesterday in Machakos, Kenya. Ndeti wanted to join his family, but after much deliberation, he figured it would be more fitting if he stayed.

"I was to go home, but we decided to come and celebrate," said Ndeti, who broke down and cried in the elite runners' tent after the race. "I ran today because of my brother."

Ndeti, who trains in Santa Fe, N.M., has 10 siblings. Older brother Cosmas won the Boston Marathon three consecutive years. But Nicholas was on his mind yesterday.

"That affected me very much," he said. "I didn't train because my heart wasn't good."

Ndeti's manager, Scott Robinson, offered his support. Whatever Ndeti wanted to do was fine with him.

"We did contemplate whether he should go home directly or run the race," Robinson said. "After a long discussion, he felt his brother would want him to run because that's what he does. The burial was today, and he felt he would be honoring his brother by participating."

Chris Zieman of Chapel Hill, N.C., who wasn't listed in the elite field, bolted ahead at the opening gun, took a huge lead and stayed in front until Kenya's Sammy Nyamongo passed him at the halfway point as they approached the ESPNZone on Pratt Street.

Itati said he wasn't worried about the distance between him and Zieman.

"I was seeing him, and I knew that this was a full marathon," said Itati, one of 2,380 runners to complete the marathon. "It wasn't really much of a worry because I knew that this is a long race and there was time to catch him."

In 2004, Itati also made his move at the 15th marker and took the lead. Once he reached the 20th yesterday, his competition falling farther behind, "I knew this was going to be my race," he said.

Itati and Asiba, 30, received $18,000 for placing first. Last year's women's champion, Rima Dubovik of Ukraine, was third.

It wasn't until the 21st mile that Asiba began to separate herself from the pack, but she never relaxed until she crossed the finish line.

"I was feeling that I was tiring," she said. "You cannot know that you're going to win. Anything might happen."

Asiba completed her fifth marathon at 2:36:27. Dubovik set the event record for women last year at 2:35:45.

"Everybody was running ahead but I was following the group," Asiba said. "After 20, I was feeling that I was catching the group. I felt now that I could move."

The blustery conditions proved challenging to many runners and affected the times they posted, though few complaints were lodged. At least they didn't have to contend with the stifling heat and humidity that marred last weekend's Chicago Marathon.

"It was a little windier than people anticipated," said Lee Corrigan of Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which manages and promotes the event, which drew a record 14,500 entries yesterday. "I think that actually hurt us. That's why we didn't get a record time."

The last four miles were mostly run downhill, which provided some relief for tiring legs.

"The race was very nice, and the weather was good, and Baltimore's a very nice city," Ndeti said. "They are very good people. I'm coming next year."


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