Mary Keitany became the first woman this century to win three consecutive New York City Marathon titles on Sunday (5), winning the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in 2:24:26, a full 3:34 ahead of second place.
In the men’s race, world champion Ghimray Ghebreslassie won his first Marathon Major with a time of 2:07:51.
Defending champion Keitany was the favourite coming into the race, and the Kenyan sealed the ‘three-peat’ with her most impressive win of all, courtesy of a devastating drive.
After going through the first three miles in a modest 18:10, Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba began to ratchet the pace. By 10km, which was reached in 35:50, the lead group was already down to just nine, with the diminutive figure of Keitany tucked in.
That group then reached 15km in 52:48, which was when Keitany made her move. A 5:06 10th mile saw her drop all but Joyce Chepkirui and Aselefech Mergia. Keitany continued to push, covering mile 12 in 5:08. Mergia couldn’t live with the pace and fell back, leaving only two.
Keitany and Chepkirui were side-by-side at half way, clocking a half-way split of 1:12:39, but they were not together for much longer as Keitany again quickened. Her pace was relentless; she clocked 5:10 for mile 14 to open up a gap that only continued to grow.
After covering both miles 17 and 18 in 5:08, she had established a huge lead, and from there was able to coast home on the roads that she knows so well.
The two-time London marathon winner passed mile 20 in 1:49:03, by which stage her lead was already more than two minutes. Though she fell short of the course record, there was no doubting the 34-year-old’s elation at her historic third title, particularly after being overlooked for selection for the Rio Olympics.
“My preparation was very OK at home, since I didn’t get the ticket to Rio, so I had enough time to train. I am happy,” said the quietly spoken Keitany.
“I was not imagining any time. I just took a lead after 15 miles and took on my own race. I was not thinking that I was near the course record. I went at my own pace from the time I broke off. For me it was OK.”
There was an intriguing battle taking place behind Keitany, as Chepkirui and Mergia suffered for their earlier efforts to stick with the leader. Kenya’s Sally Kipyego – who last year failed to finish on her debut on the same course – took advantage, moving into second at the 24-mile stage to finish in 2:28:01. She said she felt like the performance was “redemption” after her struggles in 2015.
USA’s Molly Huddle, who in August finished sixth in the 10,000m at the Rio Olympics, also finished strongly, moving through late to clock 2:28:13 for third place on her marathon debut.
Ghebreslassie wins in confident fashion
The men’s race saw history of another sort made. 20-year-old Ghirmay Ghebreslassie became the youngest ever winner of the New York City Marathon, and the first athlete representing Eritrea to win any Marathon Major. He did it by surging at half way before grinding down the field.
USA’s Dathan Ritzenhein had set off with intent, spearheading the lead group as they hit 5km in 15:19. He continued to lead the charge through to 10km, which the lead group passed in 30:37.
But for the loss of defending champion Stanley Biwott, who withdrew after 10 miles with a calf injury, the honest pace being set by Ritzenhein had little effect in splitting up the lead group. Indeed, his role was effectively that of pacemaker, and it would transpire that youngster Ghebreslassie was biding his time.
After hitting the half marathon mark in 1:04:24, Ghebreslassie began to move, covering mile 14 in 4:33. Lucas Rotich and Lelisa Desisa were the only men to go with him. The three ran together for the next five miles, though Ghebreslassie was the man working the pace.
He led them from 20-30km in a split of 29:08, a drive that would ultimately set up his win. Desisa began to fall off at mile 19 and faded badly before ultimately dropping out. Rotich was also struggling, but would not fade quite so dramatically. Ghebreslassie turned to survey the small gap he had built and waved his arm to signal that he wasn’t going to buckle.
Though he eased off in the remaining miles, he had made Rotich suffer and won comfortably in his third marathon of the year.
“In order to achieve what you need in the race and perform, you must have full confidence,” said a delighted Ghebreslassie. “If you lose your confidence, you are hopeless.
“That’s why I need to build up my confidence first. Then all that I did in training allowed me to make the right decisions in the race and make me be the winner.”
Rotich came home for second in 2:08:53, while third went to USA’s Abdi Adbirahman, who finished with a time of 2:11:23 – at the age of 39, his best finish in a Marathon Major and the oldest man to finish in the top three of the New York City Marathon.
Thomas Byrne for the IAAF
1 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) 2:07:51
2 Lucas Rotich (KEN) 2:08:53
3 Abdi Abdirahman (USA) 2:11:23
4 Hiroyuki Yamamoto (JPN) 2:11:49
5 Shadrack Biwott (USA) 2:12:01
6 Tadesse Yae Dabi (ETH) 2:13:06
7 Moses Kipsiro (UGA) 2:14:18
8 Tyler Pennel (USA) 2:15:09
9 Ben Payne (USA) 2:15:46
10 Patrick Smyth (USA) 2:16:34
1 Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:24:26
2 Sally Kipyego (KEN) 2:28:01
3 Molly Huddle (USA) 2:28:13
4 Joyce Chepkirui (KEN) 2:29:08
5 Diane Nukuri (BDI) 2:33:04
6 Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:33:28
7 Lanni Marchant (CAN) 2:33:50
8 Neely Gracey (USA) 2:34:55
9 Sara Hall (USA) 2:36:12
10 Ayantu Dakebo (ETH) 2:37:07