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Sharon Cherop Brings The Heat At The 2012 Boston Marathon

Last year's third-place finisher leads a Kenyan sweep at this year's race.

2012 Boston Marathon Race Coverage On

Last year’s third-place finisher leads a Kenyan sweep at this year’s race. 

BOSTON — Sharon Cherop, Jemima Sumgong and Georgina Rono completed a Kenyan sweep of the podium at the hazy, humid Boston Marathon on Monday morning.

Cherop was first across the finish line on Boylston Street in 2 hours, 31 minutes and 50 seconds, as Sumgong followed closely in 2:31:52 to claim runner-up honors. Rono took third in 2:33:09 as finish-time temperatures climbed toward the upper 80s.

As temperatures rose rapidly from 69 degrees at the start in Hopkinton to the mid-80s at the halfway point in Wellesley, the women played it smart and ran conservatively through the first half of the race, with no true leader asserting herself until the large lead pack slimmed to single digits around the 20K mark.

“I was very hot. The heat and humidity affects us a lot, and the fluid stations helped a lot,” said Sumgong, 27, who trains in Kapsabet in the Nandi Hills in Kenya, where temperatures have hovered in the 60s and 70s recently. “I’m not from a very humid area, and this was my first time running in it, so it was very hard.”

Cherop and Rono echoed Sumgong’s sentiments about the conditions after the race; the toll the weather took on even the race’s fleetest athletes became apparent as the pro women wove dangerously around one another to grab their marked bottles at each elite fluid station and even grabbed cups of water from the other aid stations.

Ironically, it was that very same lifesaving water for many in the field that signaled the undoing of defending champion Caroline Kilel, 31, of Kenya. Kilel started the race with every intention of protecting her crown—she chugged fluids at every opportunity, traded a two-step lead through the first 10 miles and even allowed herself to fall into the middle of the lead pack at certain points to rest. However, after a near collision with a well-intentioned spectator, who raced onto the course in Newton to hand cups of water to the lead pack of women, Kilel wasn’t able to regain her composure and rejoin the leaders, which had thinned by that point to Cherop, Rono, Sumgong and Firehiwot Dado, 28, of Ethiopia. Kilel faded badly and reportedly walked past Fenway Park at mile 25; her last recorded split was at 40K.

Cherop, the bronze medalist in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and the third-place finisher at last year’s Boston Marathon, remained unsure of whether she would participate in this year’s race. Cherop’s right knee bothered her for weeks leading up to the event, and she said she also experienced some hip pain during the race. The 2010 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and 2010 Hamburg Marathon champion shaved four seconds off her marathon PR earlier this year when she finished seventh at the Dubai Marathon, and the patient pace in this year’s Boston race helped her preserve enough energy for a late-race surge.

Running shoulder to shoulder from mile 23 to the finish line, Cherop and Sumgong, the 2011 Castellon Marathon and 2006 Las Vegas Marathon winner, made the final turn onto Boylston Street. Cherop surged hard off the turn, steadily accelerating over the final meters toward a two-second margin of victory.

“When I decided when to go, it depended on who I was with,” Cherop said about her decision to sprint for the finish all the way down Boylston Street. “If it was a Kenyan lady, I knew I needed to speed up at the last 300 meters; if it was an Ethiopian lady, it may have had to be earlier—they have a stronger finishing kick than Kenyans.”

Cherop called Sumgong a close friend whose abilities she knows well. “I started to sprint because my friend Jamima, we’re close friends and we work together and I know how she runs. I know her better than the Ethiopian lady [Firehiwot Dado], and when Dado started to fade, I got courage. When I saw her running in New York, I know how she is.”

Cherop was referring to Dado’s two victories in The Big Apple, as the Ethiopian captures both the 2011 ING New York City Marathon and 2012 NYC Half Marathon. In both of those races she achieved victory by the sit-and-wait strategy. At Dado’s New York City Marathon debut last fall, she waited for the surging Mary Keitany of Kenya to fizzle out in Central Park and passed countrywoman Buzunesh Deba, a Bronx resident, (who withdrew from the Boston Marathon yesterday with a foot injury) in the final mile. At the NYC Half last month, Dado sat on Kim Smith of New Zealand until the final meters to set the course record of 1:08:35. This approach did not work in her favor at Boston this year, however, as Dado fell off the lead pack under the blazing sunshine in Newton, finishing fourth in 2:34:56.

The top American finisher, Sheri Piers, a 40-year-old mother of three (and stepmother of two) from Falmouth, Maine, finished 10th in 2:41:55.