By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (07-Nov) — Never in the 50-year history of the TCS New York City Marathon has an Olympic Marathon champion won the famous five-borough race from Staten Island to Central Park. Several had tried, including Americans Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuelson, Italian Stefano Baldini, and Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich. Shorter came the closest, finishing second in 1976.
But today, Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir broke the “Olympic Curse,” winning the gala 50th edition of the world’s largest marathon with an explosive move with just 800 meters to go. She clocked 2:22:39, the third-fastest time in race history despite having only 92 days to recover from her Olympic gold medal performance in Sapporo last August and get ready for today’s race.
“I prepared well,” Jepchirchir said shortly after sprinting away from Violah Cheptoo of Kenya (second in 2:22:44) and Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia (third in 2:22:52). “The time was short. I tried to make sure I completed my workouts, my preparations. I’m so happy today in the City of New York.”
Jepchirchir, 28, twice the World Athletics Half-Marathon champion, had never run New York before and had never even been to the United States until her trip for this race. However, she listened closely to her Italian manager, Gianni Demadonna, who had finished second in New York in 1987 and had brought dozens of athletes here as a manager over the last 25 years. She held back in the first half of the race, staying “quiet” in the lead pack and waited until 30 kilometers before trying to break up the race. At that point, the first group of seven women was running at a 2:24:30 pace.
Jepchirchir covered the 5 kilometers from 30 to 35-K in 16:19, the fastest split of the race so far. That move put top American Molly Seidel, the Tokyo Olympic Marathon bronze medalist, back into fourth place running alone, and burned off another top contender, Ruti Aga of Ethiopia, who fell even further back and would later drop out. The race became an intense three-way battle between Jepchirchir, Cheptoo and Yeshaneh.
Cheptoo, an Olympic 1500-meter runner who was making her marathon debut, knew Jepchirchir well and began to speak with her in their native Nandi language.
“I got up with Peres, and from there I just kept talking to Peres, ‘would you please help me at least up to 35-K?'” Cheptoo explained after the race. “And, she was really nice enough to just go with me. From Central Park she just told me to hold on a little longer and we’ll at least be the top-2.”
The pace eased to 16:39 between 35 and 40-K. Seidel was nearly a minute and a half back leaving the top three to race just each other. The trio ran close together along Central Park South before making the final right-hand turn into Central Park where Jepchirchir began her long, and certainly painful, sprint. She said later that she was full prepared to make that kind of move and had used it to her advantage in other competitions, like the 2020 World Athletics Half-Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland.
“I can say that this is my second time to run in 800 meters, or 400 meters (to go),” Jepchirchir said. She continued: “I knew myself I had finishing kick because the way I used to train, I trained hard in all my programs.”
Cheptoo, who has a 4:04.10 1500m best, responded to Jepchirchir’s surge and kept it close. But that final hill has an initial steep rise, then a second more gentle rise before the line. Jepchirchir was able to hold her speed, but Cheptoo was not.
“It was my great honor to win the New York City Marathon,” Jepchirchir added.
Seidel, who revealed that she had broken two ribs during her training but would not say how, was able to hold on for fourth place in 2:24:42. In only her third marathon, she ran the fastest-ever time by an American woman at this race, bettering Kara Goucher’s 2:25:53 from 2008.
“That was incredible; I have never experienced anything like that that,” said Seidel who said that the crowd support along the course surpassed her expectations. She added: “I always dreamed of doing this race.”
Overall, it was a great day for the American women here with five athletes placing in the top-10. Behind Seidel, Kellyn Taylor was sixth (2:26:10), Annie Frisbie was seventh (2:26:18), Laura Thweatt was eighth (2:27:00) and Steph Bruce was tenth (2:31:05). Frisbie’s time was the fourth-fastest debut by an American behind only Jordan Hasay (2:23:00), Emily Sisson (2:23:08) and Goucher (2:25:53).
The men’s race was a strange one, but led to another Kenyan win. In the very early going Denmark’s Thijs Nijhuis shot to the lead, only to be reeled in by the pack in the sixth kilometer. The race seemed to settle down through 10-K (30:43), but then Italy’s Eyob Faniel and Morocco’s Mohamed El Aaraby dropped a 14:51 5-kilometer split through 15-K and opened up a 22-second lead. The pair started working together and at the half-marathon point on the Pulaski Bridge in Queens they had a 52-second lead.
“We start to push with my friend here,” Faniel explained at the post-race press conference, looking at El Aaraby. “We just saw behind us that nobody follow us. We tried to push; the pace was not crazy.”
Behind them, Kenyans Albert Korir and Kibiwott Kandie and American Elkanah Kibet were running together. Korir was second in New York in 2019 and knew the course. He used the downhill section from 25-K at the top of the Queensboro Bridge to 30-K on First Avenue in Manhattan to try to cut the gap. He and Kandie ran 14:11 for that 5-kilometer segment and caught Faniel and El Aaraby.
“We see that we can close,” Korir told reporters.
Faniel was able to tuck in behind the two Kenyans, but El Aaraby fell back and seemed to be out of the race. However, it was actually Kandie –the World Athletics half-marathon world record holder who was making his marathon debut– who was in trouble. That fast 5-kilometer surge had taken its toll, and he faded to finish ninth in 2:13:43.
Korir was hurting, but was determined. He slowed dramatically in the final stages of the race, only running 15:43 from 35 to 40-K. However, he still had 28 seconds on El Aaraby at 40-K and that was enough. Korir won in 2:08:22 to El Aaraby’s 2:09:06. Faniel held on for third in 2:09:52.
“I’m happy to win New York Marathon in 2021,” he said. “It was not an easy race, but I enjoyed it.”
Kibet passed the fading Kandie and was able to hold off Belgium’s Abdi Nageeye, the Olympic Marathon silver medalist, to take fourth. At 38 years old the active-duty first lieutenant who is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, set a personal best 2:11:15.
“I’m just so excited,” said Kibet who hopes to represent the USA at next summer’s World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
Back in seventh place, American Ben True made his long-awaited marathon debut. Running conservatively in 13th place at the halfway mark in 1:05:42, he ended up seventh in 2:12:53. That likely makes him the fastest marathoner ever born in the state of Maine.
“I’m tired now,” True deadpanned at the post race press conference. “It was interesting. I didn’t know what to expect coming in.”
The wheelchair races went to Switzerland’s Marcel Hüg in 1:31:24 (he won by nearly seven minutes) and Australia’s Madison de Rozario in 1:51:01. de Rosario –who had to cancel her participation in the Berlin, Boston and Chicago Marathons this fall due to pandemic-related travel restrictions imposed by the Australian government– was a late addition to the race after those travel restrictions were lifted.
“Our border opened on November 3,” she said.
PHOTO: Peres Jepchirchir moments after winning the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon in 2:22:39 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
By David Monti, @d9monti