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|Mo Farah outkicked Stephen Sambu and flew into second place with his final strides.|
But, as a pure gut-check and a test of his own fitness -- and, more importantly, competitive drive -- the race can be deemed a rousing success.
Farah, the double world and Olympic champion at 5,000 and 10,000 meters, will make his full marathon debut April 13 in his home country, while Mutai is an experienced marathoner who has won the past two runnings of the New York City Marathon. Before Sunday's race from Central Park to the lower tip of Manhattan, each was cagey about his strategy and downplayed the significance of their meeting on Sunday, much like the way the Red Sox and Yankees would view a final Grapefruit League tuneup game.
Neither athlete was likely going to lay all his racing cards on the table, while at the same time knowing (if not stating publicly) that a win at the NYC Half could provide significant psychological momentum with London just a month away.All of that was put to rest less than halfway through the race when Farah's feet got tangled and he went down hard on the Central Park macadam, just as Mutai was finally injecting some pace into what had been a relatively lethargic race due in part to the 31-degree temperatures and a stiff breeze from the west.
"I'm not sure what happened," Farah said. "I just remember sort of falling down and just hitting the ground quite hard. I got caught on my hip, my ankle, the whole right-hand side. It happens in a race. You've just got to deal with it. My aim was to close the gap, but slowly."
That gap had suddenly grown rather wide as Mutai and countryman Stephen Sambu dropped the per-mile pace down from the mid-4:40s to 4:25-4:30 for the next three miles. By the time the race turned onto the West Side Highway for the long run south to the finish, Mutai was clear of Sambu by 100 meters, with Farah an equal distance behind.
That's pretty much how it stayed until 11 miles, when observers in the lead vehicle noticed that Farah seemed to have drawn closer to second place. "I was trying my hardest, going 110 percent," he said. "The last four miles I struggled a bit. I was pretty much seeing stars."
At the finish, Farah displayed some of the stinging kick that's won him four gold medals in the last two major track championships, edging Sambu by one second and then collapsing to the pavement and being taken away in a wheelchair.
"I do remember sort of passing out," he said, quickly adding, "But, yeah, I'm all right. It's fine. It's not a big deal."
Farah walked in and out of the nice conference without any noticeable limp, and seemed confident the fall wouldn't affect his buildup to London in the least.
"Nothing changes," he said. "We just have to continue training, doing the workouts. London's not that far off, is it?"
He also added that he expected conditions there would be different from the cold weather here that slowed the early pace.
"It would have been nice to come out here and win the race, but Mutai's a strong athlete, a good marathoner," Farah said. "It's not like I just gave up and lost to Joe Jogger or somebody."