By Rich Sands, @sands
NEW YORK (03-Nov) -- The world's fastest half marathoners flexed their muscles at twice the distance to win convincingly at the 49th running of the TCS New York City Marathon here today. Kenyans Geoffrey Kamworor and Joyciline Jepkosgei waited until late in the race in to assert themselves on a picture-perfect day. Kamworor won for the second time in New York, following up on his 2017 victory, while Jepkosgei showed impressive poise in her long-awaited debut at the 26.2-mile/42.195-kilometer distance.
Photo - NYCM
The women's race went off first, with temperatures at 45F/7C and clear skies, "a no excuse day," according to 2017 women's champ Shalane Flanagan, who was on hand for the television broadcast. American Des Linden embraced the perfect conditions, making a daring move to the front in the ninth mile, and quickly opened a gap on the chase pack. Her lead was six seconds at the 15-K mark and was up to 13 seconds at 11 miles.
A group of four women --Jepkosgei and Kenyan compatriots Mary Keitany and Nancy Kiprop, and Ethiopian Ruti Aga began-- to close the gap, catching Linden on the Pulaski Bridge crossing from Brooklyn into Queens. The American hung with the African quartet through the halfway point, which was reached in a swift 1:11:39.
Moments later Kiprop and Linden began to fall back, as the leaders ran together, three abreast through 20 miles (32 kilometers). Jepkosgei and Keitany, who was gunning for her fifth win in New York, made it a two-woman race coming off the Willis Avenue Bridge heading into the Bronx. The stage was set for an epic battle between the 37-year-old Keitany, the world record holder for a women-only marathon (2:17:01), and Jepkosgei, 25, the world record holder in the half marathon (1:04:51). The duo continued in lockstep until the uphill 23rd mile on Fifth Avenue, when Jepkosgei gradually moved ahead. Her lead grew to 16 seconds at the 24-mile mark, grew to 28 seconds at 25 miles, and 48 seconds at 26 miles.
Jepkosgei broke the tape in 2:22:38, the second fastest time ever in New York, behind Margaret Okayo's 2003 standard (2:22:31). "I didn't know if I could win, because of my friend Mary," she said. "She has more experience in marathons. So I was very happy to run with her and to compete with major marathoners here."
Keitany finished in 2:23:32 to land on the podium for the eighth time in eight appearances in this race. She had previously won in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, finished second in 2017, and third in 2010 and 2011. Aga (2:25:51) was third while Kiprop (2:26:21) and Australian Sinead Diver (2:26:23) rounded out the top five; all three were running this race for the first time.
Linden (2:26:46) held off Kellyn Taylor (2:26:52) for sixth place and top American honors. "It was a perfect day," said Linden, the 36-year-old 2018 Boston Marathon champion from Charlevoix, Michigan, said of her uncharacteristic strategy of running a more aggressive race in the early stages. "We had a little bit of a tail wind in those early miles and I thought I would take a crack at having a good one." She remained undecided on her plans to run the 2020 Olympic Trials in February. "Right now is not the time" to decide, she said. "Just based on how my calves feel and my feet feel maybe like at 1am tonight I may have different opinions."
In the men's race, all eyes were on the 26-year-old Kamworor, who was coming off a half-marathon world record in September, clocking 58:01 in Copenhagen. His task became somewhat easier in the seventh mile when defending champion Lelisa Desisa dropped out. The Ethiopian was trying to come back from a gold medal at the IAAF World Athletics Championships on October 6.
A massive pack of 16 runners, including Americans Jared Ward and Abdi Abdirahman, ran conservatively through the halfway point in 1:04:49. Over the next several miles the field thinned out slowly until five men made a pivotal breakaway in the 20th mile over the Willis Avenue Bridge. Kamworor was joined by countryman Albert Korir and three Ethiopians: Tamirat Tola, Shura Kitata and Girma Bekele Gebre.
Gebre was a surprise sight at this point, having started with the sub-elite group and not as part of the professional field. The unsponsored runner, whose previous best of 2:13:46 came in finishing second in the Pittsburgh Marathon this past May, had caught the elite runners early in the race and gradually found himself one of the last men standing at the front. A regular presence in other New York Road Runners events as part of the West Side Runners club, he finished 19th in this race a year ago, clocking 2:18:18.
Shortly after 35-K, Kitata began to fall back while the lead four stayed together until entering Central Park for the first time. Approaching the 24-mile mark Kamworor finally made the decisive move of the day and strung out the pack. Looking fresh, he covered the 5-kilometer segment to 40-K in a blazing 14:14 and the 25th mile in 4:31, the fastest of the day. Korir was holding on to second place, but losing ground with each stride and maintaining a narrow three-second lead over Gebre through the closing stages.
Kamworor broke the tape in 2:08:13, well off the 2:06:26 he ran for third last year, but considerably faster than his 2:10:53 winning time from 2017. "I was comfortable. I prepared very well to run this marathon," said Kamworor, who was greeted at the finish line by world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, his training partner. "Throughout the last few meters, the pace was somewhat high, and it wasn't a problem for me. That's when I decided to pull away."
Korir (2:08:36) and Gebre (2:08:38) completed the podium, while Tola (2:09:20) and Kitata (2:10:39) placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Ward finished sixth overall and first among Americans for the second year in a row, clocking 2:10:45. Coming off a personal best 2:09:25 to finish eighth at the Boston Marathon in April, the 31-year-old Mapleton, Utah, resident solidified his status as one of the top contenders for the upcoming Olympic Trials. "I feel fortunate to have been running with those guys for so long," he said of his tenacious effort through the first 19 miles. "I'm happy with the race. I wanted something today that solidified the breakthrough that I had in Boston and establish to myself that I am a different marathoner in this Olympic cycle than I was at the last one."
Abdirahman, 42, clocked 2:11:34 for ninth place, setting a U.S. masters record. Bernard Lagat held the previous mark, a 2:12:10 clocking earlier this year.
Kamworor and Jepkosgei each pocketed a healthy $100,000 first-place prize, part of an overall $855,000 purse. Jepkosgei took home an additional $45,000 time bonus for running sub-2:23, while Kamworor added $15,000 for going sub-2:09.
Manuela Schar of Switzerland won her third consecutive women's wheelchair title (and her ninth straight Abbott World Marathon Majors race) in 1:44:20. Daniel Romanchuk of the U.S. won a tight four-way battle to take the men's division for the second year in a row, clocking 1:37:24. Both winners earned $25,000.