With nearly ideal conditions and a field of 30,000 runners behind them, Rodgers Rop and Joyce Chepchumba led the first Kenyan sweep of the New York City Marathon.
Rop, who finished third here last year in his debut at the distance, broke the tape in 2:08:07, a 55 second improvement from his previous best set during his win at the Boston Marathon last April. It was the third fastest time ever in New York, just 24 seconds off of Tesfaye Jifar's course record set last year.
Rop and the unexpectedly strong Laban Kipkemboi ran stride-for-stride in the 23rd mile, with another Kenyan, Christoper Cheboiboch, about three steps behind. Kipkemboi, another New York debutante faded as Rop entered the 24th mile, making the penultimate mile an instant replay, albeit a brief one, of the Boston conclusion. Cheboiboch never threatened, and finished second in 2:08:17, also a personal best.
"I didn't know that the race was over until the last 200 metres," Rop said. "I knew he was a good finisher so I made sure that I had enough to kick him in the end."
Cheboiboch was congratulatory in defeat. "He ran wonderfully," the 25-year-old said. "I thought I could catch him, but he was too strong."
Kipkemboi was third in 2:08:39, 14 seconds ahead of the quickly closing Mohamed Ouaadi of France (2:08:53).
The women's race was wide open through the first half, with a dozen women still in contention as pacer Silvia Skvortsova brought the field past the 13.1 mile marker in 1:14:12. A major turning point came in the 22nd mile, when Yugoslav debutante Olivera Jevtic, running smoothly just a few steps behind the leaders, was forced to the ground when Australian Kerryn McCann collided with her from behind. McCann was knocked out of the race for the win, as was the 25-year-old Jevtic, who nonetheless fought on valiantly.
The fall left Russian Lyubov Denisova and Joyce Chepchumba clear, until the Kenyan, dramatically throwing off her gloves in the 24th mile, surged to a five second lead. She stretched the lead to 15 seconds as she entered Central Park, en route to her first New York win in four attempts.
"I prepared very well," said Chepchumba, who despite credentials that included 1999 London and Chicago wins, was largely overlooked prior to the race. "That (lack of attention) doesn't bother me."
Denisova, this year's Los Angeles Marathon winner, was weakened by slight side pains, and finished second in 2:26:17. Jevtic running with cuts and bruises on her elbows and knees, was third in 2:26:17.
"I don't know how much time I lost, but I did lose my rhythm," Jevtic said. "But this is my first Marathon, and I was happy to be able to stay in the race.
In their highly anticipated New York debuts, Marla Runyan finished fifth in 2:27:10, while Sonia O'Sullivan, struggled in the second half, finishing a distant 12th in 2:32:06.
"Actually, I had a lot of fun out there," said Runyan, who is legally blind, adding, "until the 24th mile. Surprisingly, it didn't feel as long as I thought it would."
"My legs got really tight," said O'Sullivan, who said she spent the latter half of the race wondering what was going wrong. "Maybe the race was too slow," she wondered aloud. "I'm not used to that slow a race rhythm. Maybe my legs got tight because I had to hold back."
Disappointed, O'Sullivan concluded, "Right now, the Marathon is not the next race I want to run.
It was not a good day for the defending champions. Margaret Okayo was never in contention, falling well behind the pack just four miles into the race, but held on to finish a distant sixth in 2:27:46, while Tesfaye Jifar was forced out by stomach cramps just before half way mark.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
Unofficial Results -
1. Rodgers Rop, Kenya, 2:08:07.
2. Christopher Cheboiboch, Kenya, 2:08:17.
3. Laban Kipkemboi, Kenya, 2:08:39.
4. Mohamed Quaadi, France, 2:08:53.
5. Stefano Baldini, Italy, 2:09:12.
6. Mark Carroll, Ireland, 2:10:54.
7. Gert Thys, South Africa, 2:11:48.
8. Matt O'Dowd, England, 2:12:20.
9. Meb Keflezighi, United States, 2:12:35.
10. Stephan Ndungu, Kenya, 2:13:28.
1. Joyce Chepchumba, Kenya, 2:25:56.
2. Lyubov Denisova, Russia, 2:26:17.
3. Olivera Jevtic, Yugoslavia, 2:26:44.
4. Esther Kiplagat, Kenya, 2:27:00.
5. Marla Runyan, United States, 2:27:10.
6. Margaret Okayo, Kenya, 2:27:46.
7. Kerryn McCann, Australia, 2:27:51.
8. Lornah Kiplagat, Kenya, 2:28:41.
9. Ludmila Petrova, Russia, 2:29:00.
10. Milena Glusac, United States, 2:31:14.