By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (05-Nov) — In what she hinted might be the final marathon of her career, Shalane Flanagan became the first American to win the TCS New York City Marathon in 40 years with a commanding surge over the final three miles. The men’s race featured a similarly strong finish from Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, who held off a mad dash from countryman Wilson Kipsang to score his first-ever marathon win.
CAUTIOUS START FOR THE WOMEN
The women’s field set off 30 minutes prior to the masses, with an extremely cautious tempo. The pack hit the 5-K in 19:12, barely under 2:42 pace, and at halfway (1:16:18) there were still 15 athletes in contention. Three-time defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya made periodic attempts to force the pace but the pack continuously regrouped, clicking off splits mostly in the 5:35-5:45 per mile range.
It wasn’t until the 21st mile, going over the Madison Avenue Bridge crossing from the Bronx into Manhattan, that the race started taking shape. Keitany, Flanagan and Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia pulled away down Fifth Avenue, quickly gapping Kenyan Edna Kiplagat and American Kellyn Taylor.
The lead trio ran the 22nd mile in 5:09 before Flanagan started her hard drive to the finish. As they entered Central Park in the 23rd mile, the gap continued to grow and it was apparent that Keitany did not have the spark in her legs that brought her a women’s only world record of 2:17:01 in London this past April. Flanagan covered the segment from 35K to 40K in a blistering 15:57 and cruised home waving her fists to the crowd (and letting out an apparent jubilant expletive). She crossed the line in 2:26:53 with tears in her eyes.
The last American woman to top the podium in New York was the late Miki Gorman, back in 1977. Flanagan also became the first American woman to win an Abbott World Marathon Majors race since 2006 when Deena Kastor finished first in London.
Keitany came across second in 2:27:54, with Daska (2:28:08) holding on for the third podium spot. The U.S. had three more athletes in the Top 10, with Allie Kieffer (2:29:39 PB), Taylor (2:29:56) and Stephanie Bruce (2:31:44) placing 5th, 8th and 10th, respectively. Kieffer’s breakthrough performance was a remarkable improvement on her PR 2:44:44, run indoors on a 200-meter track at New York City’s Armory in 2016.
The 36-year-old Flanagan stormed the second half in 1:10:35 to record the second fastest time ever by an American woman in New York. “I had no physical limitations today,” she said. “I felt that sometimes those slower miles mixed in with some fartleking can make you question yourself a little bit. We were fartleking quite a bit. I didn’t get any actual splits, but I could just feel the uptempo. But other than that it was a pretty flawless race for me.”
Keitany, who emphasized that she had prepared well and was not injured, admitted that she did not feel her best today and had an off day.
The win caps an emotional year for Flanagan, who had to withdraw from last April’s Boston Marathon due to a back injury (a fracture in her iliac crest). She rallied for strong track season (including a 14:58.99 clocking over 5000 meters), though she failed to make the U.S. national team for the first time since 2003.
“I just kept telling myself that there’s going to be delayed gratification and a moment down the road that would make up for it,” she said today, tearing up. “I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl. It means a lot to me, to my family and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women to just be patient. It took me seven years to do this, so it’s a lot of work went into this one moment.”
Prior to the race, the four-time Olympian had hinted that if she met her goal of finally winning a World Marathon Major, she might retire. “I’ll think I’ll sit with my coaches, Jerry and Pascal, tonight and I think we’ll have some decisions to make,” she said.
PATIENT KAMWOROR GETS FIRST MARATHON WIN
The men’s race also followed a conservative trajectory. Defending champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie sprinted to the lead at halfway (1:06:09), but the Eritrean quickly fell back to the pack, which briefly dwindled to seven runners: Ethiopians Fikadu Girma Teferi, Lelisa Desisa, and Lemi Berhanu; Kenyans Kipsang and Kamworor; and Switzerland’s Tadesse Abraham.
But the moves were never decisive and the pack swelled back to 12 through 19 miles, including Americans Abdi Abdirahman, Shadrack Biwott and 2009 NYC champion Meb Keflezighi, who was running the final marathon of his career at age 42.
Kamworor finally broke the race open with a 4:45 split for the 23rd mile, with only Kipsang, Abraham and Desisa able to hang on. Ghebreslassie dropped out shortly after. The lead quartet continued to run together until the 25th mile, when Kamworor, a two-time world champion in both cross country and the half marathon, used a 4:31 to pull away.
Kipsang was seven seconds back, but pushed hard on Central Park South to maintain contact. Past 26 miles, over the final climb to the finish, the former world record holder, who won in New York in 2014, exploded with a mad dash and nearly caught Kamworor. Alas, he came up just three seconds behind the winner’s 2:10:53.
“I knew that I had made a decisive move and I was focusing on the finish line,” said the 24-year-old Kamworor, who still competes on the track, finishing sixth in the 10,000 meters at the world championships in London this summer. “So what was on my mind was that I had to believe in myself that I’m a track runner and I should have enough speed to sprint.”
Desisa (2:11:32), Berhanu (2:11:52) and Abraham (2:12:01) rounded out the Top 5, with the 40-year-old Abdirahman taking seventh (2:12:48) as the top American for the second year in a row (he also won the masters title). Keflezighi came home 11th in 2:15:29, soaking up the admiration of the crowd.
“It was a beautiful victory lap, you could say, to be up at the front and mix it up with all the great runners,” he said. “I know I can say that I gave it all I had in training, I gave all that I had today. New York came out to support me, and all the runners, 50,000 deep.”
The winners both earned $100,000 for the victory, while Flanagan and Abdirahman picked up $25,000 as the top Americans, part of a guaranteed purse of $850,000. Flanagan also won a $10,000 time bonus for breaking 2:27:00.
SWISS SWEEP IN THE WHEELCHAIR RACES
In the wheelchair races it was a Swiss sweep, with Marcel Hug and Manuela Schär taking the victories. Hug won the men’s race for the third time (and second in a row), clocking 1:37:21 and claiming all the U.S. races in the Abbott World Marathon Majors for the year after victories in Boston and Chicago. Schär (1:48:09) took her fourth WMM of 2017, coming off victories in Boston, London and Berlin.