Report05 Nov 2023

Obiri pips Gidey in sprint finish, Tola runs course record in New York


Hellen Obiri celebrates her New York City Marathon win (© AFP / Getty Images)

Hellen Obiri timed her kick to perfection to win a thrilling women’s race and Tamirat Tola broke the course record for a dominant men’s title triumph at the TCS New York City Marathon, a World Athletics Platinum Label event, on Sunday (5).

Claiming their crowns in contrasting styles, Obiri sprinted away from Letesenbet Gidey and Sharon Lokedi in Central Park and crossed the finish line in 2:27:23, winning by six seconds, while Tola left his rivals far behind with 10km remaining in a long run for home. Clocking 2:04:58, he took eight seconds off the course record set by Geoffrey Mutai in 2011 to claim his first win in the event after fourth-place finishes in 2018 and 2019.

While super fast times have dominated recent major marathon headlines, the focus in New York was always more likely to be the battles thanks to the undulating course and competitive fields, although the men's race ended up being the quickest in event history.

The women’s race was particularly loaded. Kenya’s Lokedi returned to defend her title against a strong field that featured Boston Marathon winner Obiri, 10,000m and half marathon world record-holder Gidey, and former marathon world record-holder Brigid Kosgei, while Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir was a late withdrawal following the leg injury she sustained a week before the race.

There was no clear pre-race favourite and that remained the case right up to the closing stages, with many of the leading contenders locked in a fierce fight after a tactical 26 miles.

The pace was conservative in the first half, with a series of surges but no big moves. Eleven of the 14 members of the field remained together at half way, reached in 1:14:21. It set the scene for a final flurry, with the pace having gradually slowed after 5km was passed by the leaders in 17:23, 10km in 34:35 and 15km in 52:29.

Obiri, Lokedi and Kosgei were all firmly part of that group, along with their Kenyan compatriots Edna Kiplagat, Mary Ngugi-Cooper and Viola Cheptoo. Ethiopia’s Gidey was happy to sit at the back of the pack, with USA’s Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle taking it in turns to push the pace.

The tempo dropped again as the lead group hit the quiet of Queensboro Bridge, with the 25km mark reached in 1:28:39. But the group forged on, hitting 30km in 1:47:06 and 35km in 2:04:45.

Then Cheptoo made a move. The 2021 New York runner-up managed to create a gap but Obiri was the first to react and covered it gradually. Gidey followed and as Cheptoo surged again, Obiri and Gidey ran side-by-side behind her. It wasn’t decisive, though, and soon Lokedi and Kosgei were able to rejoin them.

As the group hit 24 miles in Central Park, Lokedi was running alongside Obiri and Cheptoo, with Gidey and Kosgei just behind. The pace picked up again but each time Kosgei was dropped, she managed to claw her way back – Lokedi leading from Gidey, Obiri and Kosgei with one mile to go.

Looking determined, two-time world 5000m champion Obiri saw her chance and began to stride for the finish. Being chased by Gidey and with Lokedi four seconds back, she kicked again at the 26-mile mark and couldn’t be caught, using her superb finishing speed to extend her winning margin to six seconds.

It was a brilliant return for Obiri, who finished sixth when making her marathon debut in New York last year and who went on to win the Boston Marathon in April. She becomes the first women since Ingrid Kristiansen in 1989 to complete the Boston and New York marathon title double in the same year.

Gidey followed Obiri over the finish line in 2:27:29, while Lokedi was third in 2:27:33, Kosgei fourth in 2:27:45 and Ngugi-Cooper fifth in 2:27:53.

"It's my honour to be here for the second time. My debut here was terrible for me. Sometimes you learn from your mistakes, so I did a lot of mistakes last year and I said I want to try to do my best (this year)," said Obiri.

"It was exciting for me to see Gidey was there. I said, this is like track again, like the World Championships in 2022 (when Gidey won the 10,000m ahead of Obiri)."

Tola finishes fast

The men’s race also started off at a conservative pace but by 20km a lead group of Tola, Yemal Yimer, Albert Korir, Zouhair Talbi and Abdi Nageeye had put the course record of 2:05:06 set 12 years ago back within reach.

Tamirat Tola in the lead pack, on his way to New York City Marathon victory

Tamirat Tola in the lead pack, on his way to New York City Marathon victory (© AFP / Getty Images)

Most of the field had been together at 5km, reached by the leaders in 15:28, and 10km was passed in 30:36. Then a serious surge in pace led to a six-strong breakaway pack, with Ethiopia’s Tola, Yimer and Shura Kitata joined by Kenya’s Korir, Dutch record-holder Nageeye and Morocco’s Talbi.

Kitata managed to hang on to the back of the pack for a spell but was dropped by 20km, reached by the leaders in 59:34.

The half way mark was passed by that five-strong lead group in 1:02:45, putting them on a projected pace just 24 seconds off of Mutai’s course record.

Tola – the 2022 world marathon champion – surged again along with Yimer, who was fourth in the half marathon at last month’s World Road Running Championships in Riga, and Korir, the 2021 champion in New York. They covered the 5km split from 20km to 25km in 14:41, a pace that Nageeye and Talbi couldn’t contend. It also turned out to be a pace that Korir couldn’t maintain and he was the next to drop, leaving Tola and Yimer to power away.

After an even quicker 5km split of 14:07, that leading pair had a 25-second advantage over Korir by 30km and Tola and Yimer were well on course record pace as they clocked 1:28:22 for that checkpoint. Tola was a couple of strides ahead as they passed the 19-mile mark, but Yimer was fixed on his heels.

The next mile made the difference. By the 20-mile marker Tola had a six-second advantage and looked comfortable, with Korir a further 45 seconds back at that point and Kitata having passed Nageeye and Talbi.

Then Yimer began to struggle. He was 33 seconds back at 35km, reached by Tola in 1:42:51, and he had slipped to fourth – passed by Korir and Kitata – by 40km.

Tola reached that point in 1:58:08, almost two minutes ahead of Korir, and more than four minutes ahead of Yimer, and he maintained that winning advantage all the way to the finish line.

With his time of 2:04:58, Tola becomes the first athlete to dip under 2:05 in the New York City Marathon. Korir was second in a PB of 2:06:57, while Kitata was third in 2:07:11. Olympic silver medallist Nageeye finished fourth in 2:10:21 and Belgium’s Koen Naert came through for fifth in 2:10:25.

"I am happy to win the New York City Marathon for the first time," said Tola. "It's the third time for me to participate, after two times finishing fourth. Now, I'm happy."

Leading results

1 Hellen Obiri (KEN) 2:27:23
2 Letesenbet Gidey (ETH) 2:27:29
3 Sharon Lokedi (KEN) 2:27:33
4 Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 2:27:45
5 Mary Ngugi-Cooper (KEN) 2:27:53
6 Viola Cheptoo (KEN) 2:28:11
7 Edna Kiplagat (KEN) 2:29:40
8 Kellyn Taylor (USA) 2:29:48
9 Molly Huddle (USA) 2:32:02
10 Fantu Jifar (ETH) 2:34:10

1 Tamirat Tola (ETH) 2:04:58
2 Albert Korir (KEN) 2:06:57
3 Shura Kitata (ETH) 2:07:11
4 Abdi Nageeye (NED) 2:10:21
5 Koen Naert (BEL) 2:10:25
6 Maru Teferi (ISR) 2:10:28
7 Iliass Aouani (ITA) 2:10:54
8 Edward Cheserek (KEN) 2:11:07
9 Jemal Yimer (ETH) 2:11:31
10 Futsum Zienasellassie (USA) 2:12:09

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