BOSTON -- Ethiopia's Fatuma Roba ran through pain last year to win a second straight Boston Marathon. Now her leg has healed and she's thinking of a third straight victory -- and a course record.
The hilly Hopkinton-to-Boston course is becoming familiar to Roba, who last year won in 2:23:21, the third fastest women's time in Boston Marathon history.
"I know that my training time has been effective and I will win the race," Roba said through an interpreter.
The Ethiopian last year pulled away from Colleen De Reuck of South Africa at the 16-mile mark. Despite the leg injury, her victory appeared effortless to many of the 1 million spectators lining the course -- a misconception that makes Roba laugh.
"Who are these people?" Roba said, breaking into a smile. "It is not easy. I know I have done my training and that's why I have won the races."
Roba runs about 18 miles a day on dirt roads near her home in the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For the Boston Marathon -- which she considers one of the most difficult courses -- Roba also does hill workouts to prepare for Heartbreak Hill between miles 19 and 21.
Tough head winds and unpredictable weather are also obstacles, and Roba said the cold may slow her time Monday.
Last year, she expected to break the record but was hindered by her injury during 26-plus mile run.
Only Uta Pippig of Germany (2:21:45 in 1994) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (2:22:43, in 1983) have run faster. The women's world mark of 2:20:47 was set last year by Kenya's Tegla Loroupe at Rotterdam.
Roba believes she has a chance to crack the course record in Boston.
"I think about it," Roba said. "Last year, I had the leg problem, but this year I feel in good shape physically."
The men's field features defending champion Moses Tanui who finished in 2:07:34 last year. He is part of a nine-member Kenyan team that includes Joseph Chebet, who placed second last year in 2:07:37, and John Kagwe, who won his second straight New York City Marathon last year in 2:08:12.
Kagwe ran a personal best and second-fastest course time of 2:08:12 at New York in 1997.
Before her surprising victory at the 1996 Olympics in 2:26:05, Roba was a virtual unknown. She had won the Rome Marathon and Morocco's Marrakech Marathon to little fanfare.
After becoming the first African woman to win the Boston Marathon in 1997, Roba immediately was wrapped in an Ethiopian flag in a display of patriotism not unique to the finish line.
On Friday, she carried a small Ethiopian flag at all times, often breaking into a smile as she waved it to cameras.
"People look at me and recognize that I am black but they do not know where I am from," she said. "This represents that I am an Ethiopian."
Unlike many of her competitors who see her as their top challenger, Roba is not familiar with the other runners. She thinks Kenya's Catherine Ndereba, who is making her marathon debut, Italy's Franca Fiacconi and De Reuck have a chance at winning. Anuta Catuna of Romania, who placed third at Boston last year, is also expected to contend.
"But I am also included in that category," Roba said.
Fiacconi won three marathons in 1998, including New York in 2:25:17, and thinks she is the one who can beat Roba. Her strategy is an easy one.
"I just have to run faster," she said.
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