The New York City Marathon turned into a pair of East African showdowns on Sunday as many marathons do. While Kenyan Wilson Kipsang held off Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa in the men’s race and Kenyan Mary Keitany outran her countrywoman Jemima Sumgong, the strongest competitor was the howling wind that swirled, gusted and slowed the winning times. It altered the start of wheelchair races and turned the event into a test of wills and changing tactics.
“It was my first time running in New York and first in such tough conditions,” said Kipsang. “No one was really ready to take the lead, because of the strong wind. It was going to be tactical at the end. I had to exercise a lot of patience at the end.”
Kipsang’s winning time, two hours, ten minutes, 55 seconds, was 11 seconds ahead of Desisa. It was also the slowest since Mexico’s German Silva finished first in 2:11:00 in 1995. The men’s event turned into a two-man confrontation, as Kipsang didn’t shoot past Desisa until the race made its way into Central Park for the second time. During the closing 400 meters, the lead pair bumped each other, as Kipsang forged his kick, surprised by the contact from a fellow runner so late in the race.
“I said to him, ‘What happened because there is a lot of space?’” Kipsang said. “And I decided to sprint. I could not take a chance. I was ready for it, the last 50 meters. I really trusted myself.” Desisa slowed at the end, producing a winning margin that looked more decisive than it was.
The winner earlier this year in London, Kipsang won a $500,000 bonus as the winner of the World Marathon Majors title, determined by cumulative points earned in major marathons in new York Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin over the previous two years.
Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam took third in 2:12:13, followed by Med Keflezhigi of the U.S. in 2:13:18. Because of the headwinds up First Avenue, a section of the race where men had bolted to 4:30-mile splits in past years, the men were instead crawling through five-minute miles. Ironically, the challenging winds may have helped the 39-year-old Keflezhigi, a savvy runner who often thrives under adverse conditions but whose fastest times can’t match those of his younger foes. “This was windy, challenging and tactical,” Keflezhigi said. "At the 16th mile, as we started on First Avenue, I tried to lead so they would follow me and I could slow the pace down.” It worked until around 19 miles, when the podium finishers assumed control of the race.
For Keitany, a two-time London Marathon champ, the race was a test of patience. The women’s race splintered into smaller groups more quickly than the men. Sara Moreiera of Portugal held the lead for a nine-mile stretch through the halfway mark in 1:13:38, with three runners just off her shoulder and a lead pack of ten runners at the front. Four others took stabs at the lead, including Desiree Linden of the U.S., who ultimately placed fifth. Once in Central Park for the final three miles, Sumgong tried to pull ahead of Keitany, before the Kenyan caught her in the final two miles and finished in 2:25:07, just threes seconds ahead of Sumgong. “I thought maybe when I opened the gap, that maybe Mary would lose hope,” Sumgong said, “but for sure Mary had tactics of closing the gap and they were very good.
Jemima said she had planned to race in Chicago last month, but postponed her fall marathon until the New York race in November because of a sore right hamstring. “I was trying to make everything easier,” she said, [but] I have never gone to a race that was so windy.”
Linden finished three minutes back in 2:28:11. “The race went from racing to surviving and you just try to pick off who you can,” she said.
Because of the windy conditions, organizers decided to begin the wheelchair races at the three-mile mark, after a strenuous stretch up the two-mile long Verrazano Bridge. That didn’t stop U.S. star Tatyana McFadden from completing her second straight grand slam of victories (London, Boston, Chicago and New York), finishing in 1:42:16. She overcame a fall off her chair as she came up the final hill before the stretch run.
“It was my fault,” McFadden said. “I just took the wrong line. Then, I got back in. I took one look behind to make sure the girls weren’t going to catch me.” Throughout the race, McFadden used her superior arm strength to surge on uphills of the race, dropping several of her pursuers. McFadden also competed at the Paralympics in Sochi, winning a silver medal in the one-kilometer sprint in skiing. To regain the tension in her arms necessary for marathoning, McFadden took two weeks off, then put together a 200-mile week in training. “That was very strategic,” McFadden said, “trying to make my back stronger and get ready for races like today.”
Tennis star Wozniacki beats Marathon goal
On what was originally supposed to be her wedding weekend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki finished the New York City marathon in a strong 3:26, beating both her avowed goal time of four hours and her hidden goal time of 3:30. “I’m thrilled,” she said. “Right now I’m thinking I won’t do it again, but give me some time. That will probably change.”
Her friend and fellow pro Serena Williams was there to greet her at the finish line. Wozniacki said she eschewed traditional marathon-week preparations, attending a Halloween party until 4 a.m. two days earlier and a Rangers hockey game the night before the race. She also ate very little dinner the previous night and instead snacked on bagels on her way to the start line.
GALLERY: Check out classic New York City Marathon photos from SI