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12 memorable New York Marathon moments

10/31/2013
Rod Dixon's dash past an exhausted Geoff Smith is one of NYC's most epic finishes. AP Photo/Rene Perez

The New York City Marathon turns 43 this year. That's really not very old, but this great event has packed a lot of great moments into its relatively brief history. Here are 12 of the most memorable, in chronological order:

1970: A humble beginning

The inaugural New York City Marathon, which was the brainchild of New York Road Runners founder Fred Lebow, was a very humble affair. Almost laughably so when you compare it to what the event has become today. The course consisted of a few loops around Central Park. The entry fee was $1. Only 127 runners started, and of those a mere 55 finished.

1976: The first five-borough race

Lebow started small but always thought big. In 1976 he took a huge step toward realizing the full scope of his vision for the New York City Marathon by convincing the city to allow runners to travel through all five boroughs. Although the field was still small at just over 2,000 runners, Lebow scored another coup by attracting Olympic gold and silver medalist Frank Shorter to run the race.

1978: Grete Waitz arrives

In 1978, a relatively unknown Norwegian track runner named Grete Waitz ran New York as her first marathon, and not only won but set a world record of 2:32:20. Amazingly, it was the first run longer than 12 miles she had ever done.

1981: Salazar's world record, or not

The New York City Marathon course is not considered particularly conducive to fast times, but in 1981 Alberto Salazar recorded the fastest marathon time ever run anywhere: 2:08:13. However, Salazar's world record was later snatched away from him when the course was re-measured and found to be a few meters short. His only consolation was in winning the NYC Marathon for a third time (he also won in 1980) the following year.

1983: Rod Dixon outduels Geoff Smith

The 1983 men's elite race brought unparalleled drama. England's Geoff Smith started at a torrid pace and built a lead of more than a half-mile over 1972 Olympic 1'500 meter silver medalist Rod Dixon of New Zealand with only a few miles left in the race. But Smith faltered and Dixon slowly reeled him in, catching and passing the exhausted Brit a mere 400 meters from the finish line.

1988: Waitz wins her ninth

Who could have known that Waitz's surprise victory in the 1978 NYC Marathon would be the first chapter in a decade-long domination of the event? That period of podium ownership culminated in 1988, when Waitz won for the ninth and final time.

1992: Lebow finishes his own race

When he contracted brain cancer in 1990, Lebow vowed to defeat the disease so thoroughly that he would be able to run the New York City Marathon himself, and in 1992 he fulfilled that promise to the delight of his legions of admirers. Sadly, the disease returned and claimed Lebow's life in 1994. He was only 62 years old.

2005: The closest finish ever

A margin of victory of 0.03 seconds is fairly small in a 100m dash. But in a marathon it is nothing, and almost unheard of. That was the margin by which Kenyan Paul Tergat defeated South African Hendrick Ramaala in 2005. Their accelerating, side-by-side finish in the final mile was nearly enough to make spectators' heads explode.

2007: NYC hosts men's Olympic trials

Whoever thought of hosting the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Men's Marathon the day before the 2007 New York City Marathon on a spectator-friendly, multi-lap course in Central Park deserves a medal. Ryan Hall put on one of the greatest marathon performances ever, winning the race handily in 2:09:02 after running the second half in a stunning 1:02:45 on a very challenging route. Sadly, the day will also be remembered for the death of another competitor and Hall's close friend, Ryan Shay.

2009: Meb Keflezighi ends American drought

On November 1, 2009, Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982. No American has won since, although Shalane Flanagan finished second in 2010 in her marathon debut.

2010: Gebre Gebremariam Victorious In Marathon Debut

Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia made his marathon debut a memorable one, breaking the Central Park finish line tape in 2:08:14. The 26-year-old pulled away from Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai, who finished 68 seconds back. Defending champion Meb Keflezighi finished sixth, while former world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie dropped out at the 16-mile mark with a knee injury. After the race, Gebrselassie announced his retirement, a decision he later reversed. In the women's race, Edna Kiplagat of Kenya pulled away from American debutante Shalane Flanagan in Central Park to win by 20 seconds in 2:28:20.

2011: Mutai shatters course record

Since the race's inception in 1970, no one had ever broken the 2:07 barrier in New York. In 2011, Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, riding the momentum of his scintillating 2:03:02 performance at the Boston Marathon earlier in the year, didn't just break it, he obliterated it. Mutai crossed the line in 2:05:06, breaking the 10-year-old course record of 2:07:43 set by Tesfaye Jifar. Emmanuel Mutai and Tsegaye Kebede, who finished second and third in 2:06:28 and 2:07:13, respectively, also slipped under the old mark.

In the women’s race, Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado was the surprise come-from-behind winner in 2:23:15, edging out countrywoman Buzunesh Deba by four seconds. Mary Keitany of Kenya, who led much of the race at a torrid pace before being caught and eventually passed in Central Park, finished third in 2:23:38.