By Toni Reavis
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - (June 2, 2002) - On a typical San Diego morning with a welcome marine layer hanging over the low sixty degree city, Kenyans Sammy Korir and Alice Chelangat took top honors at the 5th Suzuki Rock `n` Roll Marathon, earning them over $70,000 in cash and Suzuki prizes, including an XL-7 SUV. Nearly 21,000 participants followed the two champions to the historic Marine Corps Recruit Depot finish line, making this the largest gathering in event history.
For Korir it was his sixth marathon title in ten career starts, and he came within two seconds of his sixth sub-2:09, averaging 4:50 per mile over the last 10K. Korir's 2:09:01 winning time was the second fastest ever in San Diego, only twenty-seven seconds off Philip Tarus' 1999 course record. But his 30:04 final 10K was by far the quickest homecoming, 1:14 better than Tarus' 1999 run.
"When we reached 22 miles I tried to push and I realized no one was coming," said the champion of his effort. "I hope I proved myself with my performance today."
Korir's last two miles, 4:46 and 4:49, were the best back-to-back miles of the day, and put the polish on his 1:23 winning margin over fellow Kenyan Stephen Ndungu, the two-time Los Angeles Marathon champion.
As he pulled away from a stubborn Ndungu and a debuting Kenyan, David Ruto, with a 4:49 22nd mile, Korir heard the band along the side of the road playing Bachman Turner Overdrive's classic, "Taking Care of Business".
"The music helped to energize me along the course," remarked Korir who had dropped out of the Rotterdam Marathon in April with a tight back at 30K.
Ndungu took second for the second straight year. His 2:10:23 represented a four second personal best over his winning time in Los Angeles in March. The 1998-1999 Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon champion, Philip Tarus, sprinted past training partner David Ruto in the final 100 meters for third. Kenyans claimed the top ten places at the race.
Pre-race women's favorite, Alice Chelangat, trained with two-time race champion and course record holder, Margaret Okayo, in Brescia, Italy, hoping to challenge the 2:25:05 mark set here by Okayo in 2001. But a tight right calf muscle cropped up the day before the race limiting her ability to push.
"I did not know when or if it would go away," said Alice of her problem, "but the longer the race went, the better it was feeling."
Russians Irina Safarova and Olgo Kovpotina joined Chelangat through 15 kilometers in 52:47, a 2:28:45 pace. By 20K, Kovpotina found the pace too taxing, and at the half-marathon point, beginning a loop around scenic Mission Bay park (1:14:06), only Safarova remained with the young Kenyan.
While Chelangat focused entirely on the San Diego race, Safarova had previously run the London Marathon on April 14th, taking 11th in 2:29:20. She had also won the 2001 California International Marathon and finished third in Long Beach earlier in the year.
Sensing she had to put Chelangat away early, Safarova surged at 191/2 miles, putting 15 meters on Alice. But Chelgangat responded immediately, closing the gap and accepting the challenge. By 23 miles it was the Kenyan with a punishing move, and now the 32 year-old Russian couldn't handle it.
"I wanted to push the pace, but my legs would not go," chuckled the affable Chelangat after her 2:29:56 win. "The best thing for me was hearing the music and hearing the people cheering 'go, go, go'. The people here are so friendly - they helped me to run faster today."
Safarova finished second, fifty seconds behind Chalangat in 2:30:46, followed by 1999 champion Irina Bogacheva, who closed fast to grab third in 2:31:33, also winning the Masters competition.
The record field of runners and walkers were inspired by more than 40 bands and 40 high school cheerleading squads along the course and were treated to a Sugar Ray post-race concert at Coors Amphitheatre.