New York’s Finest

Of the top American men running in Sunday's ING New York City Marathon, 2004 champ Hendrick Ramaala says, "They have what it takes to win. But we won’t make it easy.” Photo: Laurel Wassner

As the fastest-ever American men gather to run on Sunday, the rest of the field gets ready to fight.

Written by: Sarah Wassner Flynn

For more than a quarter of a century, the New York City Marathon has been dominated by foreign runners. In fact, an American hasn’t won the men’s race since Alberto Salazar claimed victory back in 1982—and the last statesman to medal here was Meb Keflezighi with his third-place finish in 2005.

But Sunday’s race may very well tell a different story. You’ve got red-hot Ryan Hall, fresh off becoming the first American man in 23 years to win the Philadelphia Distance run half-marathon last month. Joining him is a renewed Keflezighi, out to reclaim his post as the top American marathoner after a series of injuries. Then there’s Abdi Abdirahman, who lead the 2008 race for much of the first half. And you can’t discount 2008 Olympian Brian Sell, who’s looking to (possibly) end his competitive career with a swan song.

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The American crew is so impressive that the other elite runners (Africans, mostly, plus defending champ Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil) are taking note—and quaking in their running shoes. Speaking at a pre-race press conference on Friday, South African and 2004 NYC champ Hendrick Ramaala tipped his hat to the talented men, saying they’ve all got a shot at the top of the podium.

Abdi Abdirahman, Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Brian Sell, Jorge Torres and Jason Lehmkuhle gather at the pre-race press conference for the 2009 ING New York City Marathon, which is also serving as the USA Men's Marathon Championship. Photo: Laurel Wassner.

“Any of those guys could win the race, they just have to believe it,” said Ramaala, who said the field’s opened up after two-time NYC champion Martin Lel of Kenya pulled out last week due to injury. “They have improved so much, and should be able to stay up with us.”

Kenya’s Patrick Makau, a 2:06 marathoner who this year posted the second-fastest half-marathon time ever (58:52), agreed with Ramaala. “The Americans are catching up to the other marathoners in the world. [On Sunday], we will be all the same,” he said.

Ever the competitor, Ramaala was quick to cap his compliment with a bit of old-fashioned trash talk. “The Americans have so much support… the coaching, the camps. I have to travel 18 hours to [training] camp, and they live [where they train],” said Ramaala, smiling. “Yes, they have what it takes to win. But we won’t make it easy.”

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