Jeptoo gets past passport problems to win Boston

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BOSTON (AP) – If last-minute passport problems failed to stop Rita Jeptoo, Heartbreak Hill wasn’t going to stand in her way, either.

Jeptoo arrived in town Friday, and never got a chance to familiarize herself with the Boston Marathon route. But her U.S. debut was nonetheless impressive.

The 25-year-old Kenyan won in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 38 seconds – 10 seconds better than Latvia’s Jelena Prokopcuka, a strong finisher who came from behind to win the New York City Marathon in November.

“The last two kilometers I looked behind. I saw Jelena and I’m thinking, she’s coming to catch me,” said Jeptoo, who won marathons in Stockholm and Milan in 2004.

It was the closest finish in course history, race officials said. The previous record was set in 2000 when Catherine Ndereba beat Irina Bogacheva by 16 seconds. Ndereba, the four-time Boston champion who also won last year, also won by 16 seconds in 2004.

Jeptoo cruised over Heartbreak Hill, a series of hills in Newton almost two hours into the course that over the years has been the demise of even elite runners, including Japan’s Reiko Tosa on Monday.

Tosa ended up third in 2:24:11. She said the course was “much tougher” than she expected and said after the race that she didn’t even know where Heartbreak Hill was.

Jeptoo almost never made it after her passport problem. She was told that her address on her passport was incorrect, but the matter was resolved in time for her to fly from Italy and arrive in Boston on Friday.

Without even driving the route, she said she was confident because she had trained hard.

“If you know the course and are not ready, it is useless,” Jeptoo said.

Jeptoo and Prokopcuka tried to pull away with 6 miles left as Tosa fell behind. But with 4 miles left, the three were back together, running side-by-side along Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, headed east to Boston.

With about 3 miles to go, Jeptoo made her move. Her 24th mile was her fastest, at 5:07.

“I cannot wait,” she said. “I decided to go.”

Prokopcuka, the only one of the three with Boston experience, stayed close, but couldn’t pull even.

The top American finisher was Emily LeVan, of Wiscasset, Maine. She finished 13th in 2:37:01.

Jeptoo said it’s too soon to decide whether she’ll defend her title next year.

But now she has an advantage. “I know the course now,” the beaming Jeptoo said.

AP-ES-04-17-06 1702EDT

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