Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai in action at the 2013 New York City Marathon (© Getty Images)
Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo did what they needed to do on Sunday (3) at the ING New York City Marathon, winning the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in 2:08:24 and 2:25:07 respectively, and though the times didn’t approach their own bests, the races themselves were not lacking for drama.
Jeptoo overtakes Deba for the win
Jeptoo, the 2013 London Marathon champion, found her work cut out for her when 2011 New York runner-up Bizunesh Deba broke away from the pack and built a lead which exceeded three minutes at halfway.
Deba, an Ethiopian but also a resident of the Bronx who had made no secret of her desire to be the first New York resident in more than thirty years to win the New York City Marathon, was simply cranking out metronomic splits on her goal pace.
She shared the lead with her lesser-known countrywoman and training partner Tigist Tufa, a 2:40 marathon runner who began to fall back as the pair entered Manhattan and made their way up First Avenue towards the Bronx. Tufa eventually finished eighth in a big PB of 2:29:24.
By the time Tufa started drifting back, Jeptoo had already separated herself from the chase pack and set out for the front. As Jeptoo whittled down the lead, in one mile (from 21 to 22) taking off a whopping 22 seconds, the question became not if she would take the lead, but when.
The answer was approaching the 24-mile mark, and once passed Deba was essentially finished, sliding back 49 seconds by the finish and crossing the line in 2:25:56. It was Deba’s second consecutive runner-up finish in New York, more than two minutes slower than her previous one.
Third place went to a resurgent Jelena Prokopcuka, winner here in 2005 and 2006. The 37-year-old Latvian ran 2:27:47.
With her victory, Jeptoo, who was the silver medallist at the 2012 Olympic Marathon and the 2013 Virgin London Marathon victor, also became the winner of the 2012-2013 World Marathon Majors cycle. The USD $500,000 prize for that series combined with her $100,000 prize money from New York made the win worth $600,000 to Jeptoo.
“I realised I made a mistake to leave [Deba and Tufa] leading,” admitted Jeptoo. “I wanted to close the gap before 40km. I pushed alone very much, and as you know it was a very cold wind. But I tried to persevere because I knew I had trained a lot and had nothing to fear. The crowd helped me a lot, because they were so joyful, and telling me I was closing the gap.
“I was really prepared for this race,” added Jeptoo, who maintained her record of finishing in the top three in all nine Marathons she has contested to date, having won five of those. “I had nothing to fear. I came here to fight.”
Deba conceded that she never knew how large a lead she had built. “I needed to run my best time,” she said. “I needed to go from the start. I had a cramp in my stomach, and I was sick, and my pace went down. I thought I might win, but I know [Jeptoo], and I know she is very strong.”
Defending champion Firehiwot Dado was never a factor, failing to respond when Jeptoo tore away from the chase pack after halfway and eventually finished 14th in 2:38:06. World Championship silver medallist Valeria Straneo was fifth in 2:28:22 and two-time World champion Edna Kiplagat was ninth in 2:30:04.
Among the starters was double Olympic 400m champion Marie-Jose Perec, who finished in 4:51:52. 1984 Olympic gold medallist Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was inducted into the NYRR Hall of Fame earlier in the week, finished in 2:57:13.
Mutai in charge throughout
With a brisk wind in their faces, the men’s field was not aggressive early, reaching halfway in 1:05:06 with a pack of 14 men still together. Defending champion Mutai had indicated a willingness to force the pace if needed, and he was visible from the start in front of the men’s race, but he did not accelerate at halfway as he had indicated might be possible.
Instead, it wasn’t until 35km that he and Stanley Biwott separated themselves from the rest of the leaders – the pack had been eight strong before their surge – and began duelling in earnest.
Mutai asked Biwott to share pacing duties as it became clear that their move had gone unanswered, but when Biwott stayed on Mutai’s shoulder, the older Kenyan shut down Biwott with another surge approaching the 23-mile mark and ran unchallenged to the finish, taking his second consecutive New York victory in 2:08:24.
“If someone is following me, I see that will be dangerous for me,” said Mutai of his early move to dispose of Biwott.
Behind Mutai, London champion Tsegaye Kebede was the first to reel in the shattered Biwott and cruised to the finish second in 2:09:16. That place delivered him the victory in the men’s 2012-2013 World Marathon Majors cycle, and it was clear on the victory podium that the USD $500,000 prize for the series more than made up for the runner-up finish in this race.
Third place went to relative unknown Lusapho April of South Africa, the two-time Hannover winner clocking 2:09:45, visibly thrilled with his place. The 31-year-old set a PB of 2:08:32 earlier this year when breaking the Hannover course record.
Most of the men raced in more clothing than usual, with caps and arm warmers common among the pack; Kebede kept his cap on until the last hundred meters, when he took it off and waved it in celebration. But Mutai ran in only the usual vest and shorts throughout.
“To win this course, or to repeat again, is not easy,” Mutai reminded the press after his victory. “From the start to about 22 miles, there was a lot of wind. Where I made my move, I felt there was less wind, so I decided to go there. I am focused, I don’t look back. I only go my way. As you see, the course today, the weather today, even for me it is not easy.”
“I wanted to win,” said Kebede. “When I looked behind me and saw everyone there, I wanted to push and to win. But at 20 miles, I had a calf problem and I could no longer push. I kept my pace, got better, and was able to come back to second.”
Admitting that the Marathon Majors prize was his primary goal, Kebede added that the obvious and simplest way to secure that title was to win, so he made that his goal.
World and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich finished 12th in 2:13:05, beaten comfortably by Ugandan compatriot Jackson Kiprop, who finished seventh in 2:10:56. In his Marathon debut, steeplechaser Bouabdellah Tahri was 15th in 2:18:16.
Running his ninth Marathon of 2013 and making his New York debut, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi finished 11th in 2:12:29. 2009 winner Meb Keflezighi was 20th in 2:23:47, and two-time winner Martin Lel failed to finish.
Parker Morse for the IAAF