Peres Jepchirchir and Albert Korir win New York Marathon titles

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Kenyans take elite athlete victories in the Big Apple as Marcel Hug and Madison de Rozario finish first in the wheelchair categories on Sunday

The 127-strong field at the first New York City Marathon in 1970 featured just one woman, Nina Kuscsik, who dropped out at 15 miles. One year later the second edition of the event saw a women’s world record of 2:55:22 by Beth Bonner of the United States. Yet this weekend (Nov 7), at the 50th New York City Marathon, the women’s race was won by Peres Jepchirchir in 2:22:39.

Jepchirir, 28, won the Olympic title in the event only three months earlier, whereas when the New York City Marathon was created in 1970, of course, the idea of females racing over 26.2 miles at the Olympics was difficult to imagine and did not happen until Los Angeles in 1984.

Today the best female marathoners in the world produce performances that many leading men would be proud of. Jepchirchir’s time in New York City on Sunday, for example, would have been good enough to beat the leading man in the inaugural 1970 event by almost nine minutes. In fact, Jepchirchir would have beaten all the men in the first three editions of the New York City Marathon.

Despite this, she narrowly missed Margaret Okayo’s women’s course record of 2:22:31 from 2003 as she finished ahead of Viola Cheptoo of Kenya – the sister of former world 1500m and 5000m champion Bernard Lagat – who clocked 2:22:44 on her debut on this notoriously challenging course.

In third, Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia ran 2:22:52 with Molly Seidel, the Olympic bronze medallist from the United States, clocking a PB and the fastest time by an American woman on the New York course of 2:24:42 despite her training being interrupted in the build-up due to broken ribs.

The leading women passed halfway in 72:43 with Jepchirchir, Seidel, Ruti Aga and Yeshaneh forming a breakaway group into the second half of the race. By 20 miles Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh had broken away from Aga and Seidel although Cheptoo was on the charge and had joined the leading duo.

The three remained together into the final stages in Central Park. Then, with half a mile go to, Jepchirchir surged powerfully to establish a lead and she grittily maintained it on the gradual uphill stretch to the finish.

 “The course is not easy, especially towards the finish line and I felt something I’ve never felt before,” she said. “I tried my best to complete my workouts and preparations and I’m so happy today in the city of New York.”

Behind Cheptoo, Yeshaneh and Seidel came Helalia Johannes of Namibia in 2:26:09 with Kellyn Taylor of the United States just one second behind in sixth and another American, Annie Frisbie, next in 2:26:18.

One of the stories of the day, though, was Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 New York winner, who finished 12th in 2:33:32 after having completed half a dozen World Marathon Majors events in the last 42 days starting with Berlin (2:38:32) then London (2:35:04), Chicago (2:46:3), Boston (2:40:34) and a virtual Tokyo (2:35:14).

The men’s race on Sunday, was won by Albert Korir in 2:08:22, making it a golden double for Kenya and adidas – the shoe sponsor of both himself and Jepchirchir.

Mohamed El Aaraby of Morocco and Eyob Faniel of Italy formed a two-man breakaway group as they passed halfway in 63:57 about 51 seconds ahead of Korir and chasers that included world half-marathon record-holder Kiwiwott Kandie and distance legend Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia.

While Bekele’s challenge never got going, though, Korir and Kandie began to work together to chase down El Aaraby and Faniel. At 18 miles the two Kenyans caught the leaders and surged past. But the race was not over as El Aaraby and Faniel rallied to maintain their challenge.

Ultimately Korir was too strong and built a 44-second lead in the closing stages. Such was his margin of victory, he was able to showboat in the final stages, waving to the crowd before leaping through the finish tape.

Albert Korir (Getty)

El Aaraby held on impressively to finish second in 2:09:26 as Faniel also kept his form to come third in 2:09:52.

In fourth, Elkanah Kibet of the United States was almost three minutes further adrift with 2:11:15, while Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands, the Olympic silver medallist in Japan in August, was fifth in 2:11:39.

Bekele, who finished third in Berlin six weeks earlier, came home in sixth in 2:12:52.

American Ben True finished seventh in his debut marathon in 2:12:53 while Kandie, whose build-up to New York had been hampered by a knee injury, faded to ninth in 2:13:43.

Nageeye and Bekele were most people’s favourites going into the race but Korir, 27, had good pedigree as winner of the Vienna Marathon in 2017 in 2:08:40, plus Houston and Ottawa marathons in 2019, whereas notably he was second in New York in 2019 behind Geoffrey Kamworor.

The event usually features a large number of British runners but US travel restrictions relating to Brits travelling to the country did not end until November 8. However, wheelchair racing legend David Weir was able to get to New York and finished runner-up in the men’s wheelchair category to Marcel Hug of Switzerland – Hug clocking 91:24 to Weir’s 98:01 as Daniel Romanchuk finished third in 98:22.

Marcel Hug and Madison de Rozario (Getty)

Travel restrictions have also hindered Madison de Rozario of Australia this year but she found out relatively close to the race that she could travel to New York City and the Paralympic T54 marathon gold medallist won for the first time in the city in 1:51:01 – three minutes ahead of Tatyana McFadden of the United States and Manuela Schär of Switzerland.

Overall numbers were down generally as well to a mere 30,000. It was about 40% less than pre-pandemic but still rather more than the 127 who toed the line at the first event 51 years ago.

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