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NYC Notebook: Weather plays crucial role; several Americans show improvement

11/4/2014
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Kenyans Sweep NYC Marathon

Kenya's Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany won titles at the New York City Marathon.

There were 50,881 runners at the starting line of the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, and Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany emerged victorious, fighting through strong winds to give Kenya a sweep of the elite races.

The wind kept the races tactical, each winner lurking back in the pack in the early miles before pulling away late. Both races came down to a two-person duel with Keitany outkicking compatriot Jemima Sumgong by just three seconds (2:25:07 to 2:25:10) and Kipsang's late sprint defeating Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia by 11 seconds (2:10:55 to 2:11:06).

The main talking points of the day:

Key numbers: 43, 31

The temperature was 43 degrees and there were sustained winds of 31 miles per hour as the women left the starting line at 9 a.m. Kipsang and defending champion Geoffrey Mutai had talked of breaking the course record earlier in the week, but even before the race went off, it was clear that record attempts would have to wait.

The wheelchair race was moved up three miles because of safety concerns over the gusts on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and Mutai said the wind had a big effect on his strategy.

“It was more tactical because you find that all through, no one was really ready to take the lead because of the strong wind," he said. "From the start, I was really feeling very strong. I thought about taking off, but I saw it was too early for me. So I had to really exercise a lot of patience in this race.”

Mutai finished sixth in 2:13:44.

Keitany’s successful return

Keitany, the 2012 London Marathon champion, showed that a two-year layoff for maternity leave didn't affect her at all. She has run better in more ideal conditions, but Keitany demonstrated savvy as she stayed behind other runners until the 20-mile mark.

Keitany and Sumgong traded the lead throughout the final miles. Sumgong had up to 10 meters on Keitany at one point, but was unable to respond to Keitany’s final kick. Keitany said even she wasn’t sure until the final meters whether she had enough to edge Sumgong.

“When I was a few kilometers away, I just closed the gap, and I see, if I go, I might win the race," she said after the race. "So I just tried my best and go ahead of Jemima, and it was God's will to end like that.”

Keitany had come up short twice before in New York, so this victory was surely particularly sweet for her.

Moreira's stellar debut

Portugal's Sara Moreira led for much of the race in her first attempt at marathon distance, a bold strategy. It paid off, though, as Moreira held steady after Keitany and Sumgong moved and held on to finish third in 2:26:00.

Moreira is still relatively young for a marathoner at 29 years old and said through an interpreter that she celebrated her son William’s first birthday yesterday. This result could be just the start of a very successful marathon career.

Linden’s comeback complete

After dropping out of the 2012 Olympic marathon with a femoral stress fracture and battling related injuries since then, Desiree Linden (née Davila) finished fifth (2:28:11) and showed she's back to the fitness level that saw her take second at Boston in 2011.

Linden fought to stay with the main pack through the 19th mile, but spent the rest of the race in a sort of no-man’s-land.

“Honestly, I wasn't really sure what place I was in at the end. I was like, 'Honestly, this isn't going very well.' Once I fell off that pack at 19, it got a lot more difficult," Linden said. "I had a few bodies strung out in front of me, and I was able to look up and just focus on one person at a time.

"I thought I'd close down respectably over the last few miles, and I definitely competed the whole day. Those were things I was proud of. When I saw I was fifth, I was a lot happier with the overall performance.”

Strong American showing

It was a respectable day for Americans of both genders. Linden and Meb Keflezighi (fourth among men, 2:13:18) were the highlights, but Ryan Vail and Nick Arciniaga finished ninth (2:15:08) and 10th (2:15:39), respectively, in the men’s race. Vail was the top American at New York last year in 13th, and he said that three runners in the top 10 on Sunday is a big improvement for American distance running.

On the women's side, 2013 U.S. marathon champ Annie Bersagel and American record holder Deena Kastor finished 10th (2:33:02) and 11th (2:33:18), respectively. Queens-born Kara Goucher showed she still has some work to as she recovers from double stress fractures this past spring, struggling late in the race and finishing 14th (2:37:03).

McFadden overcomes mishap

American Tatyana McFadden won the women's wheelchair division, and her second straight NYC victory gives her consecutive marathon Grand Slams (Boston, London, Chicago, New York). Men's wheelchair winner Kurt Fearnley of Australia -- who has five NYC titles to his credit -- expressed his admiration:

“There is not a more dominant athlete in any sport right now than what Tatyana’s doing to women’s wheelchair racing,” Fearnley said.

Even more impressive is the fact that McFadden fell not far from the finish. She took the wrong line on a turn and tumbled from her chair but managed to get back in.

She chuckled about it afterward, saying, "I think I hit a bike. It was quite embarrassing, but I owned it at that moment, and I got back in and took one look behind me to make sure the girls didn't catch me, and I just continued with my way up that last hill right before the finish.”