BOSTON -- Trailing the leaders by 200 yards when the Boston Marathon slogged through Heartbreak Hill, Wesley Korir passed them one by one until he took the lead on his way out of Kenmore Square.
That's when leg cramps forced him to slow down and relinquish the lead.
"It's hot out there, in case you didn't know," he told reporters after enduring temperatures in the mid-80s to win the 116th Boston Marathon on Monday. "I knew it was going to be hot, and one important thing that I had to take care of today was really hydrate as much as possible. I guess my biology degree kicked in a little bit."
Singing religious songs as he trudged along the scorching pavement, the native Kenyan -- a permanent resident of the United States -- retook the lead from Levy Matebo in the final mile to cross the finish line in 84.8-degree temperatures with a time of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 40 seconds.|
It was almost 10 minutes behind the world best established here a year ago by Geoffrey Mutai and the second-slowest Boston victory since 1985. Mutai, who was hoping a repeat victory would earn him a spot on the Kenyan Olympic team, dropped out after 18 miles with stomach cramps.
Instead, it was Korir who may have won a ticket to the London Games.
"To me, I think running the Boston Marathon is an Olympic event," he said. "I don't care what comes up after this, but I'm really, really happy to win Boston."
Sharon Cherop won the women's race to complete the Kenyan sweep, outkicking Jemima Jelagat Sumgong to win by 2 seconds in 2:31:50. The women's winner was decided by a sprint down Boylston Street for the fifth consecutive race -- all of them decided by 3 seconds or less.
Cherop, who was also hoping to be selected for the Kenyan Olympic team, was third at the world championships and third in Boston last year.
"This time around, I was really prepared," she said. "Last time, the race went so fast and I didn't know I was about to finish. I didn't know the course well, and I didn't know the finish line was coming."
Matebo finished 26 seconds behind Korir, and Bernard Kipyego was third as Kenyans swept the podium in both genders. Jason Hartmann, of Boulder, Colo., was in fourth place and was the top American.
"The pace wasn't blasting, so it wasn't anything that was over my head," Hartmann said. "There were so many times that you wanted to throw in the towel, but you just fought on. I don't think that anyone coming to this race really could say they were prepared for this heat."
Korir, a two-time winner of the Los Angeles Marathon, was the 19th Kenyan man to win Boston in the last 22 years. But he is hardly typical of the African runners who have come to dominate the event since Greg Meyer, the last American winner, in 1983.
After starting college at Murray State -- the Racers, naturally -- he transferred to Louisville and graduated from there with a biology degree. He is hoping to receive American citizenship within a few years.
The winners will receive $150,000 apiece. Korir and his wife, Canadian runner Tarah McKay, run a foundation in his hometown of Kitale and have been building a hospital in the memory of his brother Nicholas, who was killed by a black mamba snake at the age of 10.
The heat slowed the leaders and led to warnings that may have convinced as many as 4,300 no-shows to sit this one out. Race organizers offered those who picked up their registration packets but did not start the opportunity to save a place in next year's race.
The largely unprecedented offer was issued in response to forecasts of high temperatures that rose from 69 at the start to a high of 89 by mid-afternoon, when recreational runners were still streaming across the Back Bay finish at the end of their 26.2-mile trek.
Crowds at the Copley Square medical tent were bigger than in previous years, with the smell of sunscreen and the sound of ambulance sirens in the air. Boston Athletic Association officials said their medical staff was helping more people, and the busy period at the finish line medical tent arrived later than usual.
Buses that sweep the course for stragglers had returned empty in previous years, but this year they were coming in full.
"It is a very busy day, but it was the day for which people planned," said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. "The god of marathoning, she smiled on us."
A total of 22,426 runners started the race in Hopkinton -- about 84 percent of the registered field of 26,716 entrants.