By JIMMY GOLEN
The Associated Press
BOSTON – Weakened by the heat and a mile-long sprint to the finish, Catherine Ndereba had to receive her winner's medal and olive wreath in a wheelchair.
As for the traditional bowl of beef stew, she took a pass.
It was much too hot for that.
Ndereba won the Boston Marathon for the third time Monday, running together with Elfenesh Alemu for 10 miles before sprinting away in Kenmore Square to finish in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 27 seconds. The 16-second margin of victory matched the closest in the history of the women's event.
“Toward the finish, I felt like I was dead,” said Ndereba, who collapsed to the pavement at the finish line, where it was 85 degrees. “All of the sudden, I had all those cramps and I could not stand. … The heat was too tough. So I was going out there knowing I had to run very smart.”
Timothy Cherigat won the men's race in 2:10:37 to complete a Kenyan sweep. He broke away from Robert Cheboror right before Heartbreak Hill to win by 1:12 as Kenyan men took the first four spots and six of the first seven.
A Kenyan man has won 13 of the last 14 Boston Marathons, and the country is so deep at the distance that Cherigat is not on the Olympic team despite winning the world's oldest and most prestigious annual marathon.
“It is sad because the team has already been chosen,” he said. “I will wait for my time, and it will come.”
For the women's field, the time came on Monday.
Four decades after a race official tried to run Kathrine Switzer off the course, the women were put in front of the race and given their own start. Leaving Hopkinton 29 minutes before the men and 20,000 recreational runners, Ndereba and Alemu didn't have to confront the clutter of men who glom onto the women's winners for pacing or TV exposure.
“It is so great and we have all the room,” said Ndereba, the reigning world champion who won here in 2000-01. “We have all the road to run wherever you feel like.”
The two ran side-by-side and alone together for about 10 miles before reaching Kenmore Square one mile to go where Ndereba sprinted into the lead. Alemu, suffering from back pains and cramping, did not have the energy to respond.
“Catherine sped up, but I slowed down because of the pain in my back,” Alemu said. “I wanted to improve my time, but the heat and the wind wouldn't allow me to do that.”
Ndereba's time the 11th-best for a woman at Boston was fast for a tough course and one of the hottest races in the event's 108-year history. But it was temperate compared to the 96 degrees reached in the 1976 “Run for the Hoses.”
Once again, spectators who live along the course tried to cool the runners by spraying their garden hoses onto the street. Others offered water that was eagerly accepted by the competitors.
“It slowed us down a lot,” Cherigat said. “I kept pouring water over my head to keep cool.”
It was 83 degrees in Hopkinton when the female contenders began at 11:31 a.m., leaving the traditional noon start for the men and the recreational field. By the midpoint in Wellesley, the temperature was 85 far above the average high of 57 for April 19 in Boston.
Race officials prepared for the heat with extra water at every mile marker, and additional medical personnel throughout the course.
The Red Cross had double the usual amount of ice 80 pounds at each of 26 spots along the route, said Bruce Kahn, station supervisor at the starting line.
“We've got lots of ambulances standing by,” he said. “If they don't cool off, it can be life threatening.”
By 6:20 p.m., 16,793 runners had finished the course. After that point, officials stopped keeping track. Of 20,404 entrants, 1,988 did not pick up their numbers to run the race, officials said.
Christopher Zieman of Santa Cruz, Calif., was the top American man, finishing 13th in 2:25:45. Julie Spencer of Baraboo, Wisc., was the top U.S. woman, placing 16th in 2:56:39.
Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won the men's wheelchair division with the fastest marathon in history, finishing in 1:18:27 to win for the fourth straight year. Van Dyk is tied with Franz Nietlispach (1997-00) for the most consecutive victories in the men's wheelchair and needs one more win to match Nietlispach for most wins overall.
Cheri Blauwet of Menlo Park, Calif., won the women's wheelchair race in 1:39:53. Defending champion Christina Ripp dropped out at the 12-mile mark.