The onslaught of four American women finishing seventh or better and four U.S. men finishing in the top 10 in Sunday’s New York City Marathon was impressive and encouraging.
What truly captivated was the dominating, victorious rush from Kenya’s Mary Keitany over the second half of the race.
Keitany won the marathon for the fourth time, returning with a vengeance after last year’s runner-up showing behind American Shalene Flanagan to win in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 48 seconds – the second-fastest women’s time in race history.
“I missed the record [of Margaret Okayo] by 17 seconds, but it’s OK. Winning is good enough for me,” Keitany said. “Last year was not my day. That’s part of it. Today, everything was OK and I ran my race.
“I didn’t want to rush at the beginning and suffer at the end. I wanted to be comfortable, run a nice race, try to win. I knew my kids had been praying for me in the morning and were at the finish line.”
She headed into her family’s arms after closing with a startling time of 1:06.58 over the final 13.1 miles. Keitany’s winning margin was 3 minutes, 13.52 seconds better than countrywoman Vivian Cheruiyot.
“There’s not much I can do about that. I don’t have the physical capability to have an answer for that,” Flanagan said of Keitany. “She’ll go down as one of the great marathoners ever. The way she can execute and crush the competition over the last half makes her an athlete to be celebrated.”
Flanagan paced the impressive American showing by finishing third, ahead of upstate New York’s Molly Huddle (fourth), this year's Boston Marathon champion Desiree Linden (sixth) and Allie Kieffer (seventh).
“It’s become a glamorous event for us, a challenge we all want to take on,” Huddle, 34, said of marathoning for U.S. women. “We’ll be sending a [2020 Olympic] team [to Tokyo] in which we can all do something, and that’s exciting.”
Linden added, "It’s a great group of runners continually pushing the bar for the others. You can win a race [like Boston], and not be the best American the next time … that’s amazing. It’s creating depth, and the hope is that it inspires the next generation.”
Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa won the men’s race in 2:05.59, the two-time Boston Marathon winner overcoming being shadowed at the heels through Central Park by countryman Shura Kitata, who finished two seconds behind.
“I was thirsty to be a champion. I had the training, everything controlled,” Desisa said. “I saw Kitata [trailing closely]. I thought maybe he would come. I know he’s a strong guy, as you saw in [Kitata leading at the midway point]. Today is my day.”
Last year’s men’s champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya finished third, at 2:06.26 – the fourth fastest time in race history.
Then came the Americans, with Utah’s Jared Ward (sixth at 2:12.24) followed by Arizona’s Scott Fauble (seventh), Folsom’s Shadrack Biwott (ninth) and Stanford product Chris Derrick (10th).
“It’s fun to be back and running with a strong American field. This team for the next Olympic cycle is exciting,” said Ward after recovering from a September hamstring injury. “We kept trying to find a rhythm and running with the Americans -- Chris, Shadrack, and Scott – it was one mile at a time.”
Keitany, who won the marathon three consecutive times from 2014 to 2016, began her blaze in the 14th mile and followed later with three straight sub-five-minute miles by the start of the 20th mile, stretching her lead over Ethiopia’s Rahma Tusa from 26 to 53 seconds.
Flanagan, 37, repeated the grit she showed in becoming the first American in 40 years to win the New York marathon last year by running down Tusa under the colorful fall foliage after the 24-mile mark.
“The thought as I was feeling sorry for myself was finding motivation. When I got dropped from Mary, I thought, ‘You never know what’s going to happen in front of you.’ I put my head down, kept fighting,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan hinted her third podium finish in New York may be her final race here.
“I do feel my heart is leading toward serving others with the knowledge I’ve gained,” she said.
She mouthed “I love you” to the racing community at the finish line.
Dina Barmasse-Gray, 53, of Agoura Hills completed her first New York City Marathon after running the Los Angeles Marathon every year since 2000, pointing to the pre-race cold of the morning wait before the start and the volume of runners as the most dramatic difference between the events.
Barmasse-Gray said striding across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn provided an awe-inspiring view of the city.
“Great race, and a great way to see the entire city,” she said. “Even though I was cold and it was crowded, it took my breath away.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the running of more than 50,000 entrants from 125 nations through the five boroughs from Staten Island to Central Park “exemplifies everything that is great about this town.”
“This is a place for everyone. There’s a common cause, from handing out water and cheering on these folks chasing their dreams. That’s a celebration of the human spirit and everything we love about sports.”
In the wheelchair divisions, American Daniel Romanchuk, 20, of Maryland won in 1:36.21 to become the first American and youngest winner of the event, edging defending champion Marcel Hug by one second.
Switzerland’s Manuela Schar, 33, won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:50.27.