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Posted: February 28, 2017:  

Athletics: Defending Champions Stephen Sambu and Ernst van Dyk to Headline International Professional Athlete Field at 2017 United Airlines NYC Half

Professional athletes from 22 different countries, including 23 Olympians and 12 Paralympians, to lead 20,000 runners at the first race in the 2017 NYRR Five-Borough Series

Internationals to join previously announced American field that includes defending event champions Molly Huddle and Tatyana McFadden

New York, February 28, 2017 - Kenya’s Stephen Sambu will attempt to defend his title and go for his fourth consecutive top-five finish at the United Airlines NYC Half on Sunday, March 19, while South Africa’s Ernst van Dyk will go for a three-peat in the wheelchair division as he looks to lower his own course record. The two reigning champions, along with Ethiopian Olympic medalists Feyisa Lilesa and Meseret Defar, will headline an international professional athlete field representing 22 different countries, and one that includes 23 Olympians, 12 Paralympians, and six runners making their half-marathon debuts.

These international professional athletes will join the previously announced U.S. field, which features six U.S. Olympians and seven U.S. Paralympians, including last year’s United Airlines NYC Half champions Molly Huddle and Tatyana McFadden.

"This is without a doubt the best professional athlete field we’ve ever had at the United Airlines NYC Half," said Peter Ciaccia, president of events for New York Road Runners and race director of the TCS New York City Marathon. "With Stephen and Ernst, we now have all four defending event champions, along Olympic medalists Feyisa and Meseret who will certainly challenge for the win. This group will set the pace for 20,000 runners, who will run alongside the hundreds of younger runners and youth wheelchair racers participating in the free NYRR Times Square Youth Run."

Sambu, 28, of Kenya, claimed his first United Airlines NYC Half title last March after finishing third in 2014 and second in 2015. He powered away from the field in the final five kilometers in 2016 to win by 19 seconds. Last October, he made his marathon debut at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where he placed fifth in 2:13:35. Sambu was also the 2014 UAE Healthy Kidney 10K champion and last summer won his third consecutive Falmouth Road Race, joining fellow Kenyan Gilbert Okari as the only male athletes to record three straight victories there.

"It is a pleasure to return to the United Airlines NYC Half in 2017," Sambu said. "New York City is my living room, and I’m looking forward to returning for a fifth time to this race, this time to defend my title in a city that has treated me so well in recent years."

Van Dyk, 43, of South Africa, is the two-time defending United Airlines NYC Half champion in the men’s wheelchair division, having lowered his own course record in last year’s race from 48:54 to 45:39. He is also a two-time New York City Marathon champion, having won in 2005 and 2015, and a 10-time Boston Marathon champion. He has competed for South Africa at every Paralympics since 1992, finishing sixth in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Marathon while also winning a gold medal in the 60-kilometer handcycling road race, prevailing in a close finish over former Formula One driver Alex Zanardi.

"I really look forward to returning to the United Airlines NYC Half," van Dyk said. "Over the past two years, the race has become a very important part of my schedule as we build up to the big marathons. The course is challenging and NYRR has come up with a strong field. If I had to choose just one half a year to go to, the United Airlines NYC Half would be on the top of that list. Coming off a good rest after the full last year, I look forward to some great racing, especially through Times Square as the sun rises over New York City."

Additional Top Men’s Professional Athletes of Interest:

  • Juan Luis Barrios, 33, of Mexico, will race the United Airlines NYC Half for the fifth time; he has never placed lower than fifth in the event. The two-time Olympian has won gold medals over 5000 meters at the last two Pan American Games and has run both his indoor and outdoor personal best in that distance in New York City.
  • Callum Hawkins, 24, of Great Britain, was the top British athlete at last year’s Virgin Money London Marathon, finishing eighth overall to earn a spot in the Rio 2016 Olympic Marathon, at which he placed ninth. In February, he won the Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon in Japan in exactly 60:00 – a new Scottish record that placed him second behind Mo Farah (59:32) on the British all-time list.
  • Feyisa Lilesa, 27, of Ethiopia, won the silver medal in the Rio 2016 Olympic marathon and is a six-time podium finisher at Abbott World Marathon Majors events, including a first-place finish at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon. He made the podium at the 2012 NYC Half, finishing third in 1:00:45, and owns a personal-best of 59:22 from the 2012 Houston Half Marathon.
  • Alexandre Dupont (wheelchair division), 31, of Canada, will make his United Airlines NYC Half debut after recording his second top-10 finish at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last fall. He is a two-time World Championship medalist who anchored the Canadian 4x400-meter relay team to a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

Additional Top Women’s Professional Athletes of Interest:

  • Edna Kiplagat, 37, of Kenya, was the runner-up at the 2011 NYC Half just four months after winning her New York City Marathon debut. She ran a personal-best time of 2:19:50 to take second place in the 2012 Virgin London Money Marathon, and in 2013 became the first woman to defend her IAAF World Championships Marathon title.
  • Meseret Defar, 33, of Ethiopia, is a two-time Olympic champion, having won gold over 5000 meters at the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Games, as well as bronze at the Beijing 2008 Games. She’s also a two-time IAAF world champion over that distance. Her half-marathon personal best of 1:06:09 at the 2013 Great North Run makes her one of the fastest women in history.
  • Alexi Pappas, 26, of Greece, was the runner-up at the 2016 Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K after winning the event in 2015. She represented Greece at the Rio 2016 Olympics, finishing 17th and earning a national record in the 10,000 meters.
  • Margriet van den Broek (wheelchair division), 42, of the Netherlands, recently transitioned to road racing and will be competing in her first major event in the U.S. Last September, she finished third at the BMW Berlin Marathon, just a week after competing in three events at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

Top International Men – Professional Runners


Personal Best Half-Marathon

Twitter Handle

Feyisa Lilesa, ETH



Callum Hawkins, GBR



Teshome Mekonen, ETH



Stephen Sambu, KEN



Juan Luis Barrios, MEX



Kenta Murayama, JPN



Rintaro Takeda, JPN



Kenta Ueda, JPN



Arne Gabius, GER



Eric Gillis, CAN



Frank Futselaar, NED



Top International Women – Professional Runners


Personal Best Half-Marathon

Twitter Handle

Meseret Defar, ETH



Edna Kiplagat, KEN



 Caroline Rotich, KEN



Diane Nukuri, BDI



Misato Horie, JPN



Lanni Marchant, CAN



Milly Clark, AUS



Kellys Arias, COL



Beverly Ramos, PUR



Sara Galiberti, ITA



Florencia Borelli, ARG



Grace Kahura, KEN



Rachel Cliff, CAN



Sarah Lahti, SWE



Alexi Pappas, GRE



Top International Men – Professional Wheelchairs


Personal Best Half-Marathon

Twitter Handle

Ernst van Dyk, RSA



Alexandre Dupont, CAN



Kota Hokinoue, JPN



Top International Women – Professional Wheelchairs


Personal Best Half-Marathon

Twitter Handle

Diane Roy, CAN



Margriet Van Den Broek, NED



The 2017 United Airlines NYC Half will feature 20,000 runners from more than 90 countries in the 13.1-mile race, which starts in Central Park, heads uptown through Harlem then back through famed Times Square to the finish line near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan.

The third annual NYRR Times Square Youth Run will showcase 1,000 youth runners in a 1500-meter out-and-back course through the heart of Times Square, as well as a youth wheelchair racing heat. Many of the young runners participate in NYRR’s free, year-round youth running programs and events that serve more than 215,000 youth across the country annually.

The event will be broadcast live in the New York area on WABC-TV, Channel 7 and will be shown internationally via a variety of global broadcast partners.

About New York Road Runners (NYRR)

Founded in 1958, New York Road Runners has grown from a local running club to the world’s premier community running organization, whose mission is to help and inspire people through running. NYRR’s commitment to New York City’s five boroughs features races, community events, youth running initiatives, school programs, and training resources that provide hundreds of thousands of people each year, from children to seniors, with the motivation, know-how, and opportunity to Run for Life. NYRR’s premier event, and the largest marathon in the world, is the TCS New York City Marathon. Held annually on the first Sunday in November, the race features 50,000 runners, from the world’s top professional athletes to a vast range of competitive, recreational, and charity runners. To learn more, visit

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