Margaret Okayo (KEN), celebrates after winning the 2002 Boston Marathon (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 1 December 2002 – Milan, Italy

Okayo fights back from Big Apple disappointment to win Milan Marathon

Milan, ItalyKenya's Margaret Okayo, took the women's win in the third edition of the Milano City Marathon clocking 2:24:59. Robert Cheruiyot (2:08:59) took the men's honours in a three way 'photo-finish' sprint tussle.

Okayo’s run smashed the course record set by compatriot Alice Chelangat last year and the female Italian ‘all comers record’, the previous best time in Italy having been set by European champion Maria Guida (2:25:57, Carpi Marathon) in 1999. Okayo’s 2:24:59 is her third best result in her young career after winning times achieved in this year’s Boston race (2:20:43, fifth in the all-time list) and when the 2001 New York Marathon (2:24:21).

The ever smiling Okayo, spends many months in Franciacorta, near Brescia, where she lives together with colleagues from the squad of her coach and manager Dr. Rosa.

Today in Milan all she wanted to do was to forget the disappointment she encountered a month ago in New York (6th, 2:27:46). “Some days before New York I was in the form of my life, probably I felt better than in Boston”, said Okaya. “Unfortunately, I suffered from a back injury during the first kilometres of the New York race along the Verrazzano Bridge. After the Big Apple event, I changed my plans and I decided to compete in Milan. I did not want to end the season with a defeat.”

Her decision proved to be inspired. She clocked 1:10:56 in the first half in Milan, after clocking 50.21 at 15 km. Her compatriot and club collegue Alice Chelangat was eleven seconds behind her. The second half was slower perhaps because Okayo was left to fight alone too early.

“Everything was perfect but in the second 21 kilometres the pavement surface of Milan’s course caused me some problems. But in general the particularly fast and flat Milan course is ideal for very good performances. I would like to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to compete here.”

Alice Chelangat, winner here last year, finished second in 2:28:16. Third was Simona Staicu in 2:29:59 (her PB). This Hungarian runner was born in Romania but moved to Hungary and changed nationality in 2000.

The course, which is flat as a pancake, inspired the men too. The course crossed through the heart of Italy’s second city. Fortunately, the weather was bright and sunny although it was still a bit cold after ten days of heavy rain.

The men’s field featured Raymond Kipkoech, winner in Berlin this year with an impressive 2:06:47 (seventh best performer on 2002 world lists), Robert Cheruiyot, born in 1978 (winner at the Roma-Ostia Half Marathon in 1:00:06 back in March), Peter Chebet, the brother of  the 1999 New York and Boston winner Joseph Chebet, Michael Rotich, and the South African Gert Thys (2:06:33 PB, 1999) who was the designated pacemaker in Milan. The top Italians Giacomo Leone, Daniele Caimmi and Migidio Bourifa provided the local challenge.

The race was very fast from the beginning with the pacemakers Thys and the Kenyan Kangogo reaching 15 km in 50.21, and the Half Marathon in 1:03:50. Thys led the pack until 30 km followed by a group, which included Kipkoech, Cheruiyot, Rotich, Chebet and Caimmi.

By the 35 kilometre - run in 1:46:00 - the pace was considerably fast. In the world famous Piazza della Scala (about 3 kilometres from the finish line) Caimmi tried a breakaway attempt but was re-caught up by Cheruiyot, Rotich and Chebet at 40km.

The final sprint to the finish line was breathtaking. Cheruiyot edged out Rotich and Caimmi to win in 2:08:59, with all three runners awarded the same time, the scene was more reminiscent of a photo finish from a 100 metre sprint race than a marathon!

For Robert Cheruiyot, the race was his debut and his victory was only two seconds off the course record set by John Sada Naya of Tanzania last year.

“I was born in Eldoret and I live there with four brothers and three sisters. I came to the fore by winning the half marathon, Discovery Kenya organized by the Fila in my country.”, said Cheruiyot. The runner-up Michael Rotich comes from Kiptoit, a village only twenty kilometres from Eldoret, the traditional cradle of Kenyan distance running.

Italy’s Daniele Caimmi, coached by Romano Tordelli, had considered his fourth place at the European Championship in August as a disappointment, and was delighted to have made up for this performance with a new personal best of third place.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF 

1 Robert Cheruiyot (Ken) 2:08:59
2 Michael Rotich (Ken) 2:08:59
3 Daniele Caimmi (Ita) 2:08:59
4 Peter Chebet (Ken) 2:09:21
5 Ruggero Pertile (Ita) 2:10:38
6 Migidio Bourifa (Ita) 2:11:23
7 Vanderlei Lima (Bra) 2:11:26
8 Francesco Ingargiola  2:13:55

1 Margaret Okayo (Ken) 2:24:59
2 Alice Chelangat (Ken) 2:28:16
3 Simona Staicu (Hun) 2:29:59
4 Lucilla Andreucci (Ita) 2:30:21
5 Florinda Andreucci (Ita) 2:33:00
6 Zhao Shengzhei (CHN) 2:38:22
7 Sara Ferrari (ita) 2:42:42