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Posted: November 9, 2006

Athletics: The ING New York Marathon Story

Jelena Recognizes The Fans - Photo - Steve Bower

(New York)-- Overcast skies and near perfect conditions greeted the 38,368 runners as they started the ING New York City Marathon from Staten Island this weekend to the tune of “New York, New York.”

The New York Road Runners had billed this as the race for the ages. The most star-studded line-up in the race’s 37 year history, it had more Olympic, World Champions and world record holders than had ever been assembled in the streets of New York.

But there was no made-to-order TV drama. No wire-to-wire finishes. No records broken. And no American victory to end the US drought in the Big Apple.

Instead, both the men’s and women’s races were won from the front by a defending champion from Latvia (Jelena Prokopcuka in 2:25:05) and a dark horse Brazilian (Marilson Gomes dos Santos in 2:09:58).

The buzz around the finish line really only started around the three hour mark when the iconic Lance Armstrong arrived, entourage of press and a contingent of former and current world class runners in tow.

While I was in New York primarily to cover the race for the Runners Web, I was also there to experience all that this fascinating city has to offer. So I took in a pricey dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s, aka “the steakhouse to end all arguments” and booked not one, but two, Broadway plays.

Yes, I chose watching King Arthur and a bunch of knights prancing around the stage in a Monty Python spoof over Lance’s post-race news conference but I’m told I didn’t miss much anyway. Apparently Lance hobbled in, said a few words about how tough he found the marathon, answered a few questions and hobbled out. Spamalot was spectacular.

So what stood out in this year’s race?

The Media Centre. The scene of more than 100 journalists from all corners of the globe invading the 9th floor of the New York Athletic Club above Central Park. There they were, seated row upon row, typing furiously on their keyboards while straining to hear NBC’s Al Trautwig, Larry Rawson and Katherine Switzer report on the race on one of 8 giant flat screens around the room.

Black Ribbons for Emilie Mondor. A touching moment came at the start of the women’s race. As the camera panned across the field, it showed them wearing black ribbons affixed to their singlets in memory of Canadian champion Emilie Mondor. Emilie was to have made her marathon debut in New York but died tragically two months earlier in a car crash near Ottawa. She had finally been getting back to world-class form training under Ken Parker, CEO of the Runners Web. In the ING New York Marathon program, it took a quote from Emilie’s website about her much she was looking forward to racing New York: “I always had that idea in my head. I live my dream now.”

Those Cwazy Rabbits. NBC announcers Al Trautwig and Kevin Lawson misidentified Tatiana Hladyr of the Ukraine as the rabbit for miles as she ran beside eventual winner Jelena Prokopcuka. They had her mixed up with Luminita Talpos of Romania.

Richard Sandomir in the New York Times describes the NBC crew as being stuck in “rabbit redux:” “Emerging onto First Avenue, Hladyr not only refused to drop out, but she was leading Prokopcuka by a few steps. This was one cwazy and woguish rabbit,” he writes. Hladyr finished 1 minute behind Prokopcuka (2:26:15) and Catherine Nderba of Kenya was third in 2:26:58.

Word is in the men’s race, world record holder Paul Tergat and Stephen Kiogora from Kenya had paid their rabbits to carry them to the bridge at Mile 16. The other Kenyans fell behind and Tergat and Kiogora went together thinking the Gomes dos Santos would fall apart and they would sprint to the finish as Tergat had done the year before. But the Brazilian outfoxed them. And he didn’t even have a rabbit. Next year the race will serve as the US Olympic Trials. No rabbits allowed.

Surprise. Surprise. After running a conservative pace for the first half marathon, Prokopcuka made a move at the half way mark along with Tatiana Hladyr. But no one responded. Not three-time Boston winner Catherine Ndereba, nor American Deena Kastor who had hoped to ride the momentum of winning Chicago and London this year, nor Rita Jeptoo or Lidiya Grigoryeva.

“It was a situation I couldn’t understand,” said Prokopcuka. “I asked myself, What’s going on?” Tactically,” Kastor said, “it was a very strange race. I can only attribute it to the fact that there were so many accomplished women out there that nobody wanted to make a move.”

On the men’s side, when Gomes dos Santos made his move at the 19 mile mark, he left a pack that included four previous marathon champions in his wake. “Yes, I was surprised,” he said, “because many of the runners in the race know me.”

Apparently not everyone did. World record-holder and the race’s defending champion Paul Tergat later acknowledged that he waited to see who else was going to move because he didn’t know much about the Brazilian. I’ll be honest,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly who he was.”

In the final mile, Tergat and Kiogora made up about half of the 30 seconds Gomes had built up but they ran out of real estate. Gomes’ win ended the decade long African hold on the men’s title. Kiogora finished second in 2:10:06 while Tergat was 2:10:10.

Up Next…the Lance Factor

Lance Armstrong and his entourage - Photo - Steve Bower

© Copyright 2006 Lynne Bermel

Lynne Bermel, a former world-ranked pro Ironman competitor, is a senior marketing & PR consultant living in Ottawa. She is also a freelance writer and TV sports show host. You can reach her at:

You can access previous columns by Lynne at: LB_Columns

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