Geoffrey Mutai, the two-time winner and course record holder at the New York City Marathon, added an NYC Half title to his career accomplishments on Sunday, building a huge lead after 8 miles and holding off double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, who had tripped and fallen earlier in the race.
Mutai clocked in at 1:00:50, and Farah outkicked Stephen Sambu by one second to take runner-up honors in 1:01:07, after which he collapsed and had to be taken away in a wheelchair.
Sally Kipyego, the Olympic 10,000-meter silver medalist who was running in her first half-marathon, broke Firehiwot Dado's NYC Half women's record by four seconds with her 1:08:31 victory, showing how completely she's recovered from a broken foot that plagued her after the London Olympics.
Kipyego, who won multiple NCAA championships at Texas Tech, broke open what had been a three-woman race in the 10th mile.
The temperature held steady at 31 degrees throughout the race, which featured an undulating opening section in Central Park and essentially flat stretches of Seventh Avenue and the West Side Highway before finishing in Lower Manhattan at Wall and Water streets.
The men's lead pack numbered more than two dozen early in the race with Meb Keflezighi, Jake Riley and Kenyan Member of Parliament Wesley Korir among those visible at the front. But Keflezighi, who'd been second in the first NYC Half back in 2006, lost contact by the fifth mile.
Mutai stayed near the lead throughout, and at one point seemed to beckon to Farah to step forward and share front-running chores. Farah did not, and was tripped from behind and crashed to the pavement in the race's 28th minute.
Not long after leaving Central Park and heading down Seventh Avenue toward Times Square, the serious contenders seemed to be down to just two: Mutai and former University of Arizona star Stephen Sambu.
Mutai's margin over Sambu then began to grow -- one of Mutai's miles was timed at 4:25 -- and by the ninth mile his victory seemed a certainty. The tenacious Farah recovered, though, catching up to Sambu before the two began to close the gap on Mutai.
But there was far too much ground to make up and Mutai triumphed in a time much slower than his 58:58 personal best.
Matt Tegenkamp was the top American, finishing seventh in 1:02:04, while Keflezighi took 10th place in 1:02:53.
"First of all, I've done good for this great moment," declared Mutai, who'll take on Farah, marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang and others at the April 13 London Marathon. "I give of myself, and I do all I can."
"I do remember sort of passing out," a recovered Farah said after the race. "I tried so hard in the race, taking a fall and then going through. But, yeah, I'm all right. It's fine. It's not a big deal."
"I'm not sure what happened," he added. "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. The last four miles I struggled a bit. I was pretty much seeing stars."
As for the women, those with solid half-marathon credentials like Caroline Kilel and Hilda Kibet were not factors 40 minutes into the race. The competition was already down to the eventual top three. After a record-setting 13.1 miles in which the strain was evident, Kipyego literally jumped for joy at the finish line.
"It went fantastic," Kipyego said of her half-marathon debut. "I knew I was fit coming in but just because it was a new distance, I did not know how it was going to turn out. For now I'll go back to the track and see how the summer goes."
Later, Kipyego clarified that the result "was better than I expected. I psyched myself so much because I don't do very long, long runs. My long run is about 14 miles. So that was really cutting close to what I would normally do as a long, long run. So I was more anxious."
Huddle said after the race that "I stuck my nose in it in the beginning, and the distance got to me a little bit in the end. I knew the last three miles would be my questionable uncomfortable zone, and it was."