New York, N.Y. – He may or may not actually be the 20 years of age that his passport declares (birth dates are often less precise in some parts of the world). But that didn’t stop Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from frolicking like a young colt through the five concrete boroughs in the 46th running of the TCS New York City Marathon.
Ghebreslassie galloping in Central Park on his way to a 2:07:51 victory.
Showing no signs that he was competing in his third big time marathon in seven months time, the long-named strider put an exclamation point on his 2016 campaign, adding the New York City title to fourth place finishes in the London and Rio Olympic Marathons.
Under azure blue skies and clement mid-50s Fahrenheit temps, Ghebreslassie took charge as the lead pack climbed the Pulaski Bridge at halfway in Queens (1:04:25). His decisive move splintered the 12-man pack and led eventual runner up Lucas Rotich of Kenya and eventual DNF Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia on a clean breakaway. From that point forward the man from Asmara, Eritrea just kept turning the screw tighter and tighter until Desisa then Rotich gave way up the Willis Avenue Bridge at 20 miles.
Thin as a miser’s smile, the 2015 World Marathon champion in Beijing was only 34-seconds off the course record pace at 20 miles. But once free from Rotich, the recently married Gheb cantered home in 31:01 over the final 10K while Mutai had pressed his margin with a 28:36 in 2011 to set the record at 2:05:06.
In the end Ghirmay G. added a shiny Big Apple to his growing display case with a convincing 2:07:51 win, third fastest winning time in New York history and just five seconds off his PR run this spring finishing fourth in London.
Kenya’s Mary Keitany notched her third straight women’s title in 2:24:26, a mostly solo effort reminiscent of legendary Norwegian Grete Waitz whom she joined as the only three-peaters in NYC women’s history.
Nine time champ Grete won her first three in a row from 1978 to 1980 then five straight 1982-1986. Kenya’s Sally Kipyego finished her first marathon in second some 3:35 behind, but only 12 seconds ahead of America’s Molly Huddle who debuted nicely in third in 2:28:13.
But I was aboard the men’s lead moto for ESPN2 coverage, so that’s the race I watched up close.
The big bridge points the way. Old Glory waves with pride indicating a northeast breeze.
Interestingly, Ghebrslassie & Rotich led them out – 55F with 15mph NE cross winds hitting the ruiners on their left shoulder.
USA’s Dathan Ritzenhein takes charge early. 5:14 opening uphill mile, 10-seconds faster than normal.
Ritz and Abdi Abdirahman (eventually third in 2:11) keep the tempo high up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn – 15:15 at 5K into headwind
Defending champ Stanley Biwott was said to be off form after stomach problems in Rio Olympics where he dropped out at 35K. I was told just before the start that Stanley may drop out after 10k.
29:30 10k – Ritz coming off a 60:12 half in England ready for action. Maybe over-amped?
#1 Stanley Biwott & Mammoth Lakes Shadrack Biwott (no relation) on tail end of 13-man pack as the course heads up Lafayette Avenue before huge throngs – 8 miles 39:18. Stanley will drop out at 15k. Shadrack finished strong in fifth position.
Ritz still driving 12-man pack at 15K – 45:45. 30:30 from 5-15k But here comes Ghebrslassie into close third. Ritz would not make it all the way this year.
Abdi Abdirahman at age 39 ( with the same proviso that Ghebrslassie is 20) joins Ritz for the romp toward halfway. Abdi will finish tough to take third, while Ritz will pay for his early hard pacing and DNF.
Big three run free. Ghebrslassie, Lucas Rotich & Lelisa Desisa get serious at halfway in 1:04:25. Rotich won this spring’s UAE Healthy Kidney 10k in New York. Desisa stood on the podium in the last two New York City Marathons.
Crossing over 59th Street Bridge going from Queens to Manhattan – 25K in 1:15:54. 14:48 last 5K. Ghebrslassie driving the pace relentlessly.
Manhattan skyline looms.
Flying down off 59th Street Bridge st 16 miles – 1:17:56 (4:47 16th mile)
Crowds up 1st Avenue- Thunder Alley!
1st Avenue – This rich stone forest, this Avenue of dreams.
Ghebrslassie punishes the opposition. 17th mile in 4:35, 18th mile in 4:38, 19th in 4:48, all into headwind. Desisa feeling the pain.
Losing contact. Two-time Boston Marathon champ Desisa will eventually drop out after finishing second in 2014 and third in 2015 in New York.
Willis Avenue Bridge at 20 miles becomes the bridge too far for Lucas Rotich. And Ghebrslassie is alone!
50 Shades of Pain – The suffering is real for the 2015 Hamburg Marathon champion (PR 2:07:17). But he hangs on for a valiant second place 2:08:53. Abdi notches third place in 2:11:23.
All alone and cruisin’ with New York’s finest in close order formation.
My moto partners for the day: driver par excellence Sean Ricci, and longtime friend and cameraman Dale Wong.
ESPN2 crew: Tim Hutchings, Carrie Tollefson, me, Paula Radcliffe, and John Anderson.That’s a wrap for NYC 2016. Thanks for tuning in.
Morning after. So long New York. Congrats to all. Well done NYRR! Now let’s survive tomorrow’s election and return to a semblance of sanity in this grand old land of liberty.