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Kenyans dominant in New York 2013

Geoffrey Mutai

With exceptionally high expectations for race performance and participant experience, the ING New York City Marathon returned to the streets of this storied city on Sunday, November 3, and it was a triumphant Sunday or two Kenyan marathoners – Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo.

With a field of more than 50,000 starters, the ING New York City Marathon drew runners with a wide variety of reasons to run—some to chase personal-best times, some to overcome adversity, and many others to raise funds for charitable causes.

The pro field for this year’s ING New York City Marathon was arguably the strongest in event history. Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda is the current Olympic and World champion. Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia is a two-time London winner (including this year) and a former Chicago champion. Kenya’s Martin Lel had won New York twice in two tries. And yet none of them was the favorite.

Defending New York champion Mutai (right, courtesy NYRR) has never represented his country at an Olympics, and he dropped out of London and Boston in his most recent races there. Yet he exuded a quiet confidence at pre-race appearances, smiling while answering questions about his training partners Wilson Kipsang, who recently broke the world record in Berlin, and Dennis Kimetto, who broke the course record in Chicago. Was Mutai merely the favorite by association?

He ran in a gradually dwindling phalanx of men for mile after windy, hilly mile through Brooklyn and Queens. Lel was dropped and would abandon the race at 19 miles. The 2009 champion, Meb Keflezighi of the USA, stopped with acute quadriceps pain—but after a three-minute wait, he continued. “The fans were yelling my name,” he said afterward. “I couldn’t quit.”

With six miles left, eight men still ran with Mutai, who was being treated like a Tour de France patron—the alpha male who sets the race’s tone and tempo. Kiprotich and Kebede were there, as were five Kenyans—Julius Arile, Jackson Kiprop, Stanley Biwott, Wesley Korir, and Peter Kirui. Running lightly and calm-faced among them was Lusapho April of South Africa.

Kebede pressed the pace at 20 miles, and the group elongated. But then Mutai chose his moment to surge, and, the race was broken open. Biwott briefly ran beside Mutai, who kindly gave him a drink from his bottle. But when Biwott dropped a step back, Mutai broke the contact. “After that, I focused,” he would say.

All the predictions were then proved accurate. Mutai had so much in reserve that he appeared freer and more comfortable at the new, faster speed. He no longer looked down at the road but up and ahead, clearly untroubled, drawing farther and farther away.

He broke the tape for his second straight New York victory in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 24 seconds — more than three minutes off his course record, but remarkable given the 17-mile-per-hour headwinds for most of the race. Kebede, a master of timing, passed everyone else to take second—one place higher than in 2011—in 2:09:16. The surprising April moved up past the fading Biwott to claim third.

Kebede’s finish secured him the 2012–13 World Marathon Majors title—only Kiprotich, who finished 12th, had also been in contention—and a total of $575,000: the $500,000 WMM prize plus $60,000 for second place and a time bonus.

Mutai won $125,000—the winner’s $100,000 plus a time bonus—but the race itself clearly had its own value for him. “This is harder than 2011,” he said after getting out of the cold and wind. “To win and defend your title is not easy.”

In the women’s race, Buzunesh Deba – who runs for Ethiopia, but is a resident of New York City – and her training partner, Tigist Tufa, bolted from the starting line to take an early and substantial lead, even into a brisk headwind, it could have been the New Yorker in them coming out: bold, dramatic, maybe a bit impetuous.

Deba insists that she was merely running at her planned pace. At mile 15, with Deba and Tufa ahead of the pack by 3:24, it looked as if that pace might carry the day.

That’s when Priscah Jeptoo (left) saw the light. To win the 2012-13 World Marathon Majors title, she would have to win this race. And to win this race, she was going to have to make a move. Now.

“I realized that I did a mistake to leave the two ladies who was leading,” said Jeptoo, the 29-year-old 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2013 Virgin London Marathon winner. “I realized that three minutes is almost one kilometer. So I started to push the pace. I was having confidence that I will make it.”

And that is how the Queensboro Bridge became the launching pad for Jeptoo’s come-from-behind victory, in which she made up that 3:24 deficit in less than eight miles, rocketing past first Tufa and then Deba just before mile 24 to win the 43rd running of the ING New York City Marathon in 2:25:07.

With the victory came the World Marathon Majors jackpot of $500,000 when she vaulted past 2013 Bank of American Chicago Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo for the title, based on a point system for placing in the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York marathons. The Tokyo Marathon will be added to the 2013-14 cycle.

Deba, fighting stomach cramps, hung on for second, in 2:25:56, with 2005 and 2006 ING New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia third in 2:27:47.

The podium finish for the 37-year-old Prokupcuka, who has been out of competition for much of the past four years for pregnancy and childbirth, was a surprise. It also served as some compensation for the futility of her 2012 post-Superstorm Sandy journey here; she was standing in line for passport control at the airport after arriving on Friday when she learned from TV that the race had been cancelled.

It was not the only irony on display yesterday. In 2011 in New York, Deba was the hunter, as Mary Keitany went out at world-record pace only to be reeled in by the Ethiopian duo of Deba and eventual winner Firehiwot Dado, with Deba finishing second. Yesterday, she was the hunted.

The hunter was well-armed. Jeptoo’s personal best of 2:20:14 is more than three minutes faster than Deba’s 2:23:19, and she won a recent half-marathon, the Bupa Great North Run in England, in 1:05:45 over Olympic track gold medalists Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar. So when she poured on a 5:04 in mile 17 and a 5:05 in mile 18 to start making up ground, it should have been no shock.

“I was very, very happy when I saw that I reached to the finish line when I am a winner,” said Jeptoo. “This is a great moment for me, and this is a day I will not forget for the rest of my life.”

43rd ING New York City Marathon

New York, NY, Sunday, November 3, 2013

1     Geoffrey Mutai     2:08:24     Kenya
2     Tsegaye Kebede     2:09:16     Ethiopia
3     Lusapho April     2:09:45     South Africa
4     Julius Arile     2:10:03     Kenya
5     Stanley Biwott     2:10:41     Kenya
6     Masato Imai     2:10:45     Japan
7     Jackson Kiprop     2:10:56     Uganda
8     Peter Cheruiyot Kirui     2:11:23     Kenya
9     Wesley Korir     2:11:34     Kenya
10     Daniele Meucci     2:12:03     Italy

1     Priscah Jeptoo     2:25:07     Kenya
2     Buzunesh Deba     2:25:56     Ethiopia
3     Jelena Prokopcuka     2:27:47     Latvia
4     Christelle Daunay     2:28:14     France
5     Valeria Straneo     2:28:22     Italy
6     Kim Smith     2:28:49     New Zealand
7     Sabrina Mockenhaupt     2:29:10     Germany
8     Tigist Tufa Demisse     2:29:24     Ethiopia
9     Edna Kiplagat     2:30:04     Kenya
10     Diane Nukuri-Johnson     2:30:09     Burundi

For full results