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Ethiopian and Kenyan win New York in record times

Ethiopian and Kenyan set new records in New York
James O. Dunaway for the IAAF
4 November 2001 - New York -Good weather and the strongest, deepest fields in the New York City Marathon’s 31-year history produced records in both the men’s and women’s races.

25-year-old Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia won the men’s race in 2:07:43, bettering the former course record of  2:28:01 set by Juma Ikangaa in 1989.  Margaret Okayo of Kenya, also 25, won the women’s race in 2:24:21, knocking 19 seconds off the 2:24:40 set by Lisa Ondieki in 1992.

Jifar was in a group of 15 who were paced through the first half of the men’s race in 1:03:50. When the pacers dropped out a dozen remained in the hunt, but as usual in the four miles (16-20) going northward on Manhattan’s First Avenue, the attrition was drastic. And why not? A 4:39 mile dropped eight men, including former winners John Kagwe (1997 and 1998) and Joseph Chebet (1999), leaving Jifar, Japhet Kosgei and Rodgers Rop of Kenya and Silvio Guerra of Ecuador still in it. That was followed by a 4:33 with Kosgei pushing it, which dropped Guerra, and a 4:31 effort by Rop, which discouraged neither Jifar nor Kosgei, but may have disheartened Rop a  bit, because shortly after that he was unable to respond to another surge by Kosgei, and then there were two. Kosgei and Jifar traded surges through miles 20-23. Then with three miles to go, Jifar sprinted away down Fifth Avenue and in a few seconds it was over. The Ethiopian drew steadily away and won by 500m or so (96 seconds), a pretty good hammering.

Kosgei (2:09:19), Rop (2:09:51) and Guerra (2:10:38) hung on for the next three places. They were followed by South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala (2:11:18), fast-closing Brit Jon Brown who trains in Canada (2:11:24), and Kagwe (2:11:57) and Chebet (2:13:07).

Jifar, who despite his 2:06:49 PR (second at Amsterdam in 1999) had never won a marathon before today, grew up on a farm and lost the sight of his right eye at “age 11 or 12” when he was gored by a bull. He won $80,000 first place money plus $50,000 as a time bonus (with the course record built in), and a Pontiac Grand Am automobile. Kosgei didn’t do too badly, either; his $45,000 second place money was augmented by a $20,000 time bonus. Rop’s take was $30,000 plus $20,000.

Okayo’s victory was less dramatic. She ran with the lead pack of a dozen or so through a much more relatively conservative 1:13:09 first half, then moved strongly away, building a one-minute lead fairly quickly and extending it to nearly two minutes at one point. Thus for the last 10 miles she ran alone, and although Susan Chepkemei of Kenya and Svetlana Zakharova of Russia closed the gap to less than a minute over the last 5,000m, Okayo was never in danger of being caught.

The race for second was more exciting, with Zakharova breaking away from a four-woman group and Chepkemei being the only one who could go with her.  They battled right down to the line, but Chepkemei proved just a bit stronger at the end, 2:25:12 to 2:25:13. Behind them were Kenya’s Joyce Chepchumba (2:25:51) and Esther Kiplagat (2:26:15), last year’s winner Lyudmila Petrova (2:26:18), and American Deena Drossin,  making a notable marathon debut in 2:26:58, which makes her the fourth fastest American of all time and the fastest in ten years.

Okayo, who finished third last year, found victory rewarding. She added a $35,000 time bonus to her $80,000 prize money and the Pontiac. Chepkemei’s total take was $70,000 and Zakharova’s $55,000. And thanks to the fact that the race was also for the American championship, Drossin ended up $61,000 richer. Reluctant until now to go 42.195 km, the two-time U.S. 10,000m champion may be more willing to venture this far in the future.