02 NOV 2012 Preview New York

Despite massive post-storm challenges, New York’s Marathon cannon to sound on Sunday - PREVIEW

Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the gold medal in the Women's Marathon at The Mall on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 (Getty Images)Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the gold medal in the Women's Marathon at The Mall on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright

2 November 2012 – New York, USA - The ING New York City Marathon will go on Sunday morning (4), despite the billions of dollars of damage and disruption wreaked on the New York metropolitan area less than a week before by the remains of Hurricane Sandy.

UPDATE 3 November, 10am CET: Amid ongoing recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled Sunday’s race. See related story here.

The IAAF Gold Label Road Race will see a reduced weekend schedule and a shift in focus toward demonstrating the city’s ability to rebound from difficult circumstances. A stellar field of athletes including Olympic bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang and Olympic gold medallist Tiki Gelana will be on hand - despite facing massive logistical challenges simply to get to New York - with plans to demonstrate resiliency of their own.

Ahead of race, unprecedented difficulties

The storm, which blanketed the Atlantic coast of the USA from the Carolinas to Maine on Monday, flooded much of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, and left millions without power. It is being blamed for over 70 fatalities in the USA and more from its path through the Caribbean last week.

In New York City, questions about the Marathon’s fate began almost immediately. Potential challenges included lack of power, potential damage or obstructions to the course, lack of volunteers, and concern for city residents still without power or heat. Perhaps most daunting from a pure management perspective is the simple problem of moving over 30,000 runners from their beds to the start.

The NYCM’s famous “five-borough” course is a point-to-point race which crosses on and off the island of Manhattan three times and starts on Staten Island, a location only reachable from Manhattan by ferry, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (which the Marathon course crosses) or lengthy drives through New Jersey. In the past, as much as half the field (over 40,000 in normal years) has congregated in Lower Manhattan and taken the Staten Island Ferry to the start. This year, although the Ferry is projected to be back in operation by race day, the subways which would normally carry many of these runners to Lower Manhattan have been limited by flooded tunnels and are unlikely to be back in operation in time. Simply getting the field to the start may be the biggest challenge of the day.

The organising New York Road Runners deferred the race’s fate to the judgment of city officials, citing the marathon’s dependence on city resources for traffic control and other support functions. On Wednesday (31 October) Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared his willingness to proceed. The decision was not without controversy and criticism, but it has also placed an additional load of symbolism on an event which is already close to an annual festival.

Kipsand vs Mosop – Men’s race

When the cannon fires on Sunday, however, the athletes in the front row, as always, will be among the best in the world at what they do–at least, those who managed to reach New York City when its airports and one of its train stations were closed for several days in succession. Kipsang, the Olympic bronze medallist who spoke analytically at a Thursday press conference about Geoffrey Mutai’s barely-year-old course record of 2:05:06, has a PB of 2:03:42 - the second-fastest ever on a record-legal course. Kipsang, the winner of the 2011 Frankfurt and 2012 London marathons before his Olympic race, flew to the site of another major Marathon, Boston, and undertook a five-hour car ride to New York with four other Kenyan athletes.

Joining Kipsang in that car ride (and probably pointing out the Hopkinton signs on the Massachusetts Turnpike) was Moses Mosop, the 2011 Chicago Marathon champion and second-fastest marathoner in history with his 2:03:06 in the improbable 2011 Boston Marathon.

Stepping beyond the sub-2:04 club, 2010 New York champion Gebre Gebremariam returns, as does 2009 winner (and 2012 Olympic 4th-placer) Mebrahtom Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist.

Olympic champ Gelana and hometown favourite Deba highlight women’s field

Kipsang and Keflezighi could make a complete set of Olympic medals with Tiki Gelana, the women’s gold medalist from London who, travel permitting, will run her third Marathon of 2012 in New York. With wins in Rotterdam (2:18:58, her PB) and at the Olympics, Gelana would like to make it a three-for-three sweep in New York.

The hometown favourite, however, has to be Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba. Deba, who took second just steps behind Firehiwot Dado in 2011, has found travel in New York this week to be almost as challenging as traveling overseas; her 140-block car ride to Wednesday’s press conference took two and a half hours, more than twice the time she would’ve needed to run that far. The NYCM has not had a local winner in the history of the women’s race; Deba is a strong favorite to be the first.

It would not pay to overlook Edna Kiplagat. Beside Gelana the only other woman in the field with a sub-2:20 PB, Kiplagat was the 2010 New York City Marathon champion and the 2011 World Champion. Her 2012 Marathon efforts so far have been less rewarding, a runner-up finish in London and a dismal 20th at the Olympic Games, so a return to New York looks promising to Kiplagat.

Tatyana Arkhipova would not have borne mention in a major Marathon preview before this summer, with a victory in Los Angeles in 2009 her previous best credential, but her bronze-medal finish in London marked both a career highlight for the Russian and a new tactic in the days of high-risk pacing. Sitting back early and sweeping through the spent leaders in the late stages of the race, Arkhipova’s London strategy could be perfectly suited for the very technical New York City course.

Although the men, particularly Kipsang, have spoken of cooperating on an aggressive pace, the women are more likely to be conservative, particularly after Mary Keitany’s rash first half in 2011 opened the door for the more careful Dado and Deba. New York does not designate pacemakers for their professional athletes, so finishing times often take a back seat to the chess match of high-stakes racing.

With three 2012 Olympic Marathon medallists headed for the starting line and a solid supporting cast of former winners and speedsters, New York has an opportunity on Sunday to show the world both its scars and its heart.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

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