Wilson Kipsang wins NYC Half

American Dathan Ritzenhein is third; Bernard Lagat is 12th in debut at distance

Updated: March 18, 2013, 12:29 PM ET
By Chris Lotsbom | Competitor.com

NYC Half MarathonTony Spinelli/ESPNAbout 14,500 runners started the NYC Half Marathon on a cold and windy day in Manhattan.
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK -- Yellow was the color of champions at the eighth edition of the NYC Half, as Kenyans Wilson Kipsang and Caroline Rotich overcame freezing conditions to separate themselves from the competition on the streets of Manhattan Sunday morning. Wearing bright yellow adidas and Mizuno vests, respectively, Kipsang and Rotich clocked 1:01:02 and 1:09:09, the second occasion in race history that Kenyans had swept both titles.

Coming in as the favorite, Kipsang, 31, took a conservative approach to the race, relaxing toward the back of the lead pack as the leaders made their way through the opening kilometers in Central Park just after sunrise. With 17 men together through 5K in a pedestrian 15:05, it was clear that the below freezing temperatures (30F/-1C at start) and early start had impacted the pace.

Among those in the pack were Komazawa University standout Kenta Murayama, Kipsang, American debutant Bernard Lagat, and Italian Daniele Meucci. After reaching 10K in a quicker 29:40, leaving the park it would be Kipsang taking the lead for the first time under the bright lights of Times Square. The 58:59-half-marathoner would soon hit the gas pedal, hoping to break up the lead group.

"After 10K I was feeling good," said Kipsang. "When I tried to [separate] from the group, I saw that I was feeling very good. I was in a position to really [pull away] from the group and win this race."

[+] EnlargeNYC Half Marathon
Tony Spinelli/ESPNRunners make their way through the streets of Manhattan during the eighth NYC Half Marathon.
Despite the temporary surge, a majority of the pack stayed together, with Mexico's Juan Luis Barrios and American Dathan Ritzenhein in the mix. Tucked into the group, running confidently and in control was Lagat, Barrios' training partner in Arizona.

By the time the group made the U-turn on the West Side Highway before 15K, 10 men still remained in contention. Ritzenhein headed the charge, though soon that would change.

With seaming ease, Kipsang re-took the lead after passing 15K (43:53), and began to separate from the group. Ritzenhein was the only one to immediately respond, tagging along off his shoulder as the others began to fall off the new-found hot pace.

From 15K to 20K, Kipsang clocked a snappy 14:01. Running in perfect rhythm, the Olympic marathon bronze medalist appeared poised and in control of his effort, slowly dropping the chasing Ritzenhein. The Kenyan would run the remainder of the race by himself.

"It was sort of my plan to take the lead," Kipsang said. "Many guys tried to push [early] but it wasn't possible cause it was very, very cool. After 10K I saw that the time was a little bit slower than I thought. I decided to try and push for the second half to see if I can run a faster time."

Ritzenhein soon found himself in a battle for second with Italy's Daniele Meucci, last year's silver medalist at the European Championships at 10,000 meters. Back and forth the two would go as they entered, then exited the Battery Park Tunnel.

Despite the duel, all eyes were out in front as Kipsang cruised into the finishing straight on Water Street knowing he had the title and $20,000 first-place prize in the bag. After breaking the tape, Kipsang said he was pleased with his effort.

"I am very happy and I feel grateful to win this race in my second time coming back to New York. Winning this race was very good despite the fact that it was very cold from the start," he said, referring to his first trip here, in November when the ING New York City Marathon was canceled. "The time I managed to finish was very good and I am happy for this"

Meucci would finish ahead of the charging American by four seconds, 1:01:06 to 1:01:10. His time is a personal best.

"In the race I stood behind the group of Kenyans and other athletes, and in the last 5K I push and feel good and I go in front to the finish," said Meucci in English.

Ritzenhein was satisfied with his race, saying that it was much better than his 15th-place finish here in 2012. Noting that he didn't get any sleep last night, the 30-year-old father of two was "just happy to be done."

Behind Ritzenhein, a string of personal bests were set by Leonard Korir (fourth in his debut, 1:01:19), Juan Luis Barrios (fifth, 1:01:21), Stephen Sambu (seventh, 1:01:34) and Jason Hartmann (ninth, 1:01:52 -- more than a minute off his previous best of 1:03:07).

Lagat wound up 12th, timing 1:02:33. The four-time Olympian viewed his debut as a success, though believed he could have run a bit faster had the weather been warmer.

"I had so much fun today," he said with his typical smile. "I was really enjoying it until when the pace kind of picked up after the ninth mile (15K). That's when I started feeling a little tired. I kept trying to see if I could push a little more but the guys were hammering it up and I couldn't get myself moving around that time."

Rotich holds on to capture second title in three years

The women's race played out in dramatic fashion, with the 28-year-old Rotich ultimately edging Burundi's Diane Nukuri-Johnson over the final kilometer.

Similar to last year, New Zealand's Kim Smith made her presence known at the front of the pack early on, opening up with a 5:11 first mile. Rotich quickly joined her, forming a two-person tandem before Colombia's Yolanda Caballero came alongside. Caballero's fast start was somewhat surprising, as she came into the race with a personal best more than three minutes slower than Smith and Rotich.

Things would get interesting in the seventh kilometer, as Smith began to fade (ultimately she would not finish, dropping out at about 11 kilometers and citing a quadriceps injury). With Smith out of the picture, Rotich continued to press on, and her lead would grow comfortably. After she made her way through Times Square, she took the U-turn from West 42nd Street to the West Side Highway by herself, and was surprised to not see anyone close behind.

"I knew it's not over until it's over," she would say later.

A lead that had seemed insurmountable would soon dwindle as Rotich made her way down the West Side Highway along the Hudson River. Behind, Nukuri-Johnson and Croatia's Lisa Stublic were working together to chip away at the gap.

"We started out a little slower compared to her," said Nukuri-Johnson, who resides in Iowa and is a two-time Olympian. "We just kind of got closer and closer and we started running together for a couple miles."

In the 10th mile (16th kilometer), Nukuri-Johnson and Stublic -- who grew up in Waterbury, Conn., and attended Columbia University before moving to Croatia -- would pull up on Rotich's left shoulder. The 6-foot Nukuri-Johnson towered over both competitors as the three approached the Battery Park Tunnel. Shortly before entering, Rotich gained a second wind; her gap ahead of Nukuri-Johnson would grow to five meters as they exited, while Stublic had fallen back even further.

Turning right onto Water Street, a big smile of relief came across Rotich's face. Finishing in 1:09:09, the Kenyan had picked up her second title in three years, becoming only the second two-time winner in race history.

"It is good to be back and be a champion again," said the quiet Rotich. "I knew they were just here, so I was just like 'OK, I just have to hold back a little bit and then see if I can pull something close to the finish.' To win it was really good."

Nukuri-Johnson and Stublic would cross the line in national records, timing 1:09:12 and 1:09:18, respectively. Stublic was temporarily stunned with her finish.

"The first thing I thought was that I couldn't believe I had such a good position. My goal was to finish top 10, said Stublic, who will run the Zurich Marathon in three weeks. My coach told me he thought I could run 1:09:30, but in my head I was like I dont know.

Caballero, the early contender, finished seventh in a South American record of 1:10:30, while Stephanie Rothstein Bruce placed ninth as the top American. Her 1:10:54 performance registers as a new personal best as well.

Other notable finishers included recent European Indoor champion Sara Moreira (10th in 1:11:03), and American Olympian Janet Bawcom (12th in 1:11:13).  Five national records were set in the women's race.

Competitor.com is an engaging, informational and interactive endurance destination for athletes of all abilities. With unique editorial features, up-to-the-minute running news, training and nutrition tips from the top running experts in the industry, running gear reviews and exclusive athlete interviews, Competitor.com provides runners with the most robust content available on the Web.