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Khannouchi Wins Chicago Marathon

October 23, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) _ Khalid Khannouchi didn’t watch the Olympic marathon. He just couldn’t.

The pain of not being able to represent his new country, the United States, in Sydney was still too raw. Watching someone else win the gold medal that could have been his would have been unbearable.

So Khannouchi tried to treat it like any other day. He ran. And while he ran, he thought about ``his Olympics,″ the Chicago Marathon.

``He wanted to come and get the American record,″ said his wife and coach, Sandra. ``He gave something to America, a fast national time.″

Six months after becoming an American citizen, Khannouchi ran a U.S. marathon best Sunday, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 1 second. Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, the Boston Marathon champion, won the women’s race in 2:21:33.

Though Khannouchi’s time was more than a minute slower than his world record of 2:05:42 last year, it still smashes the previous American mark _ official or unofficial. Bob Kempainen ran a 2:08:47 at Boston in 1994, but it wasn’t recognized because it was done on a point-to-point course. David Morris ran a 2:09:32 at Chicago last year.

As Khannouchi crossed the finish line, his wife gave him an American flag. He bent down and kissed the ground, then wrapped the flag around his shoulders as the crowd cheered.

``This one is for America,″ said the Moroccan-born Khannouchi, who became a U.S. citizen May 2. ``I hope I can do it in a major championship where it really counts, and (people) will hear the national anthem and they’ll be proud for the team and for me.″

Josephat Kiprono of Kenya finished second to Khannouchi in 2:07:29. Moses Tanui of Kenya was third in the first race to feature seven sub-2:07 runners.

Khannouchi and Ndereba each won $105,000 for the race, sponsored by the LaSalle Bank. Though prizes are doubled for Americans who finish in the top 10, Khannouchi wasn’t eligible for the bonus because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen at the Jan. 1 cutoff.

No other Americans _ male or female _ finished in the top five. Morris, of Missoula, Mont., finished seventh in 2:12:00 and Eric Mack of Las Vegas was eighth in 2:12:42.

Libbie Hickman of Fort Collins, Colo., was the top American woman, finishing in sixth place in 2:32:09. Christine Junkermann of Leesburg, Va., was seventh and Kristy Johnston of Shepherdstown, W.Va., was eighth.

``It seemed like we ran a little better today, even not counting Khannouchi,″ Morris said. ``It was a pretty good day for Americans. I think we’re starting to move in the right direction.″

The Americans can’t help but improve in the marathon now that Khannouchi’s on their team. The 28-year-old has won three of the five marathons he’s entered, and finished second and third in the other two.

Khannouchi moved to New York in 1993. After finding the support in the United States he never felt he got in Morocco, he applied for citizenship in 1996 with the hope he could run for the United States at the Sydney Olympics.

But he wasn’t granted his citizenship until May 2, five days before the U.S. marathon trials. He skipped the trials because of injuries and a fear the Moroccan track federation would block him from running in Sydney.

``Crying or thinking about it is not going to make it any better,″ he said. ``We set another goal. We decided to come to the second Olympics in Chicago.″

With one world record already, Khannouchi was more concerned about the title than his time. He hung at the back of the leaders group while Kiprono broke from the back around the 16th mile.

Khannouchi was right there when the leaders caught up to Kiprono around the 19th mile, but he didn’t move to the front until the 23rd mile. Kiprono tried to stay with him, but Khannouchi stepped up the pace.

``When I’m here, I feel something is attracting me to the streets of Chicago. It’s very special,″ Khannouchi said. ``I didn’t want to embarrass the crowd here. I knew they were counting on me as a favorite son of Chicago and as an American.″

Khannouchi had a lead of about four seconds as he headed into the tunnel under McCormick Place on Chicago’s lakefront, about 1 1/2 miles from the finish. He put on a huge burst of speed in the tunnel, and by the time he emerged Kiprono was a good 50 to 60 yards behind him.

``He’s the best in the world,″ Kiprono said. ``When he’s running, he really feels strong.″

So does Ndereba. Fellow Kenyan Lornah Kiplagat charged to an early lead, going ahead by 13 seconds after mile six. But Ndereba kept the pace she’d plotted and slowly gained.

She caught up to Kiplagat at the 11th mile but stayed back, running a second or two behind. Ndereba finally passed Kiplagat between miles 24 and 25, and finished 12 seconds off the course record set in 1985 by Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Kiplagat, who’d won her last eight races, finished in 2:22:36.

``I didn’t even know how close I was,″ Ndereba said of the course record. ``Maybe next year when I come back I’ll try much harder and see if I can break the record.″

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