Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany made it a day to remember for Kenya as the pair triumphed in the TCS New York City Marathon, crossing the line in 2:10:59 and 2:25:07 respectively at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (2).
The times were rendered relatively modest, in fact the men's winning time was the slowest since 1995, owing to cold and windy conditions.
Kipsang’s winning time was slowest of the 11 marathons in his career so far, albeit with the former world record holder over the distance running the second half almost three minutes faster than the first.
His halfway split of 1:06:56 had suggested an even slower outcome but meant that the second half was run in 1:04:03.
For the men, tactics soon took the place of chasing fast times.
High winds at the start, and for much of the first 15 miles, soon put a stop to Kipsang’s original plan of attacking the course record of 2:05:06 by his training partner Geoffrey Mutai in 2011.
Instead, Kipsang stayed in a large leading group of runners until past the 22-mile mark, as the runners came down 5th Avenue back into Manhattan, before joining Lelisa Desisa to break away from the pack.
Desisa and Kipsang ran together through Central Park and across Central Park South, Kipsang leading and Desisa shadowing, both clearly conserving energy for the closing sprint.
As the pair turned back into the park at Columbus Circle, the pace accelerated from the relatively pedestrian 4:51 pace of mile 25 down to 4:34 pace.
As Desisa pulled up next to Kipsang, the latter shot the younger Ethiopian a stern look before kicking the pace down to the equivalent of a 4:05 mile and imperiously pulling away to victory.
“Lelisa was very close to me, but I conserved energy for the final sprint. In the last 200 metres it was all me,” said Kipsang.
The win in New York City put Kipsang one point ahead of Dennis Kimetto, the new Wworld record holder, in the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors series, netting him an additional USD $500,000 on top of the $100,000 prize money for his win on the day, his eighth marathon win in 11 outings.
Third place went to 2010 New York champion Gebre Gebremariam in 2:12:13, and fourth to the US star and 2009 champion Mebrahtom Keflezighi. London 2012 Olympic Games gold medallist and 2013 world champion Stephen Kiprotich bettered his 12th place finish last year with a fifth this year.
Geoffrey Mutai, the two-time defending champion and course record holder, was sixth in 2:13:44, jogging across the line after Keflezighi and Kiprotich.
Mutai had run with the pack until Kipsang and Desisa shattered it, but was unable to cover that move.
Third time lucky for Keitany
Keitany’s 2:25:07 was the slowest of her career as well, but like the men, the women provided an enthralling battle all the way to the finish line.
Her advantage over compatriot Jemima Sumgong was just three seconds, equalling the closest in race history when Paula Radcliffe just edged Susan Chepkemei by the same margin in 2004.
“The race was very windy, so I said wait, and I waited,” explained Keitany.
Keitany led the breakaway, with Sumgong following, in almost the same place where the men’s race would be reduced to two 15 minutes later, between 22 and 23 miles.
As the pair emerged on Central Park South, Sumgong made a bid for the lead, but as they approached Columbus Circle, Keitany moved back into the front and closed the door on Sumgong, who held on but was unable to challenge again.
“After 40K, I was with Jemima,” said Keitany, “and I said, I will see if I can get the lead. My body was OK, so I took the lead and kept it.”
Keitany’s victory came in her first marathon since her disappointing fourth place finish in the 2012 Olympic marathon, the hiatus being due to a maternity break.
After finishing third in her marathon debut in New York in 2010, Keitany was third again in 2011 after setting out on world record pace for the first half so she was anxious to finally finish the job on her return to the Big Apple.
Keitany and Sumgong were followed in by Portugal’s Sara Moreira in 2:26:00, last year’s European Indoor Championships 3000m gold medallist moving up distance and making her her marathon debut.
Latvia’s two-time former New York winner Jelena Prokopcuka was fourth in 2:26:15 while Desiree Linden, crossing the line in 2:28:11, rounded out the top five as the first American woman.
Ethiopia’s 2011 champion Firehiwot Dado was seventh and Italy’s 2013 World Championships silver medallist Valeria Straneo was eighth.
The high winds, which was in the runners’ face for most of the race and blowing them around on the bridges, were so severe that the first mile marker, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn, was blown off the course.
“It changed the dynamics of the race. You stuck to the pack as long as you could. Whoever got stuck on the front had to work a lot more,” said Linden.
The winds were reduced somewhat as the course entered Manhattan, but didn’t get behind the runners until after 20 miles, when the course turns south in the Bronx to return to Manhattan.
The conditions forced the New York Road Runners, the race organizers, to reduce signage and screens in the start area and around the course for safety.
Parker Morse for the IAAF