Cosmas Ndeti winning the 1994 Boston Marathon (© Getty Images)
3 November 1999 – New York - Cosmas Ndeti, a three-time winner of the Boston Marathon, is getting his inspiration from Evander Holyfield, both athletically and spiritually.
Like the heavyweight boxing champion, Ndeti is deeply religious and believes in predestination. And like Holyfield, the Kenyan is eager to prove he can make a comeback after losing his title.
"I am very hungry,'' said Ndeti, who will try and regain his stature among the world's premier long-distance runners in Sunday's New York City Marathon.
"I am determined to become a champion again. When Holyfield became champion a third time, he was very determined.
"I can make it. I can make it. Ahmed Saleh (of Djibouti, the 1988 Olympic bronze medallist) has been running a long time. He's nearly 45, and he's still running well and beating all those young guys. I don't want to quit."
Ndeti, 27, is not nearly as old as Saleh, the 1987 World Cup champion, but still feels he has something to prove, despite winning at Boston from 1993-95, setting the course record of 2 hours, 7 minutes, 15 seconds, in 1994, and being the only runner to break 2:10 four straight times on the demanding Boston course.
He has not won a marathon since his last Boston triumph - 4 ½ years ago. He has not won a major marathon other than Boston. And he has not run a marathon since finishing sixth in the Fukuoka Marathon in December 1997 in a race in which he was slowed by severe thigh cramps, causing him to stop three times.
"Since New York in 1996, I've been trying to come back, but I keep getting injured,'' Ndeti said Wednesday.
Ndeti finished sixth in his only appearance at New York three years ago, after placing third in his quest for his fourth consecutive Boston title seven months earlier.
He had planned to make a comeback in the Paris Marathon earlier this year, but an Achilles' injury forced him to withdraw and prevented him from training for about 1 ½ months until June.
Now, he feels healthy and hopes to run up to his old Boston standards.
"You have to be strong to survive," Ndeti said. "I've trained as hard as I could for this race because I want to make a comeback. Runners like (Dionicio) Ceron, (German) Silva, (Andres) Espinosa and (Steve) Moneghetti - none has ever made a comeback."
"I want to be back in the sport. When I was sitting back home and saw (Joseph) Chebet run nearly 2:10 (in winning at Boston this year), I said, ‘No. That's my race.’ I want to go back to Boston and win again. If I win a fourth time, I will be very happy."
He will be even happier if his oldest son, now 6 ½ , becomes a marathoner and eventually wins the Boston Marathon. The boy, named Boston, was born the day before Ndeti won his first Boston title.
"Then they can say Boston wins Boston," Ndeti said, laughing.
Six years ago Elijah Lagat, another favourite for Sunday's marathon, had a cushy desk job with the Ministry of Education in Kenya and exercising and running was not part of his daily life until he began to have problems with his heart.
Lagat was examined by a physician who told him that he needed to lose weight quickly because fat had developed around his heart from eating too much calorie loaded roast meat.
"The doctor told me that I had to lose weight or it could be dangerous to my health. I was frightened," he said.
That was in 1993. So Lagat, now 33, began jogging and the 5ft. 5in. Kenyan's weight dropped from about 160lbs to around 120lbs in six months.
His routine, however, was different from most people who turn to jogging to lose weight. Lagat ran late at night in the streets of his home in Kapsabet because he did not want his friends to see him running.
"I was too fat and I didn't want anybody to see me," he laughed.
After six months he began to enjoy running and turned to cross country and half marathons. On Sunday he will line up as one of the favourites to compete in the 30th New York City Marathon.
"When I started running it was not because I liked it or wanted to compete, it was for my health and then I began to enjoy it," he said.
Since then the father of four, who trains every morning and night running about 100 miles a week through the Nandi hills in Kenya, has a personal best of 2:07:41 when he won the Berlin Marathon two years ago.
"I'm healthy now and I enjoy competing," said Lagat, who arrived in New York on Tuesday and had not yet seen the 26-mile 385-yard course, which winds its way through the city's five boroughs.
"I hope to win. It is a very good field with fast runners and five can win it," he said.
Lagat pinpointed compatriot John Kagwe, 30, who has won the past two New York marathons, as probably the man to beat, but he added:
"Sometimes we need a change."
Lagat also won the Prague Marathon two years ago in 2:08:52. This year he was fifth in the Paris Marathon clocking 2:08:50, in 1998 he came in 10th in Chicago in 2:10:33 and second in Turin in 1997 in 2:09:19.
A late starter to competitive running, he has won Italy's Amatrice Configno Road Race for the past two years and in 1997 he won the Merano half-marathon. His half-marathon best is 1:00:51, which he recorded in the Luxembourg Route de Vin four years ago.
Lagat plans to run in the next Boston Marathon and plans to represent Kenya at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.