“I am happy now,” said the tiny athlete soaked with sweat. “I am the winner.”
The twisting record-standard course begins with a short uphill, and the lead pack of eight women ran to a sluggish 3:14 split for the first kilometer. Africans led the way, as Chebet was joined by the defending champion Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia, as well as her countrywomen Mamitu Daska, Amane Gobena, and Belainesh Gebre.and Jelliah Kerubo Tinega, as well as Australian Benita Willis, rounded out the lead pack. The group stayed together through a faster second kilometer (6:14/3:00), but Willis, a three-time champion here, and Gebre fell back in the uphill third kilometer in leafy Washington Park (9:25/3:11).
“I was the only (non-African) who went with them,” Willis said. “I gave myself every shot to go for it.”
The field began to string out in the fourth kilometer, and as the leaders turned right for the second pass through the Park, only four were left in contention: Chebet, Kiplagat, Daska and Erkesso. Chebet, knowing the other three women were primarily marathoners, began to feel like this was her day.
“Yes. I see that the body is OK, and I say, I am the winner today,” Chebet recalled. “Yes, I feel the body is strong today.”
Erkesso drifted back before the 4K mark (12:31/3:06), then Kiplagat upped the pace. Chebet responded, but Daska couldn’t hold on. Chebet accelerated immediately as the duo turned left onto Madison for the final 800 meters to the finish, and began to slowly increase her speed over Kiplagat.
“I knew she would have good speed,” said Kiplagat. “When I was in Kenya watching the world cross country (on television) she was among the fast (group). Then, in the last kilometer she outsprinted the world 10,000-meter champion, .”
Chebet did not make a sudden burst for victory, but gently lifted her speed with every stride. Before she began the final 350-meter downhill for the finish line adjacent to Empire State Plaza, she was not trying to break Asmae Leghzaoui’s course record of 15:18 from 2005. Nonetheless, she covered the last kilometer in 2:41.
“No, I don’t know the course record,” Chebet said, looking down like a schoolgirl who failed to complete a homework assignment. “I run this race in 2007, but…”
Chebet’s time was the second-fastest on US soil this year behind only Ethiopia’s, who ran 15:04 at the in California in April. The victory earned her $10,000 in prize money. Kiplagat came home second in 15:20 followed by Daska (15:23), Erkesso (15:36) and Gebre (15:44). Willis finished seventh in 15:49, and Rebecca Donaghue of State College, Pa., was the top American in ninth place in 15:50.
Ukraine’s Anzhelika Averkova, 41, won the veterans (masters) competition in, and Carmen Troncoso, 51, outsprinted Joan Samuelson, 53, to win the 50-and-over title by one second in 17:47. It was Troncoso’s 20th consecutive finish at Freihofer’s, and her 19th time breaking 18 minutes.
“If she comes up here it’s over,” Troncoso said of Samuelson pointing at her left shoulder. “If you let her come, it’s over.”
Not surprisingly, race director George Regan was pleased with his event, one which recorded nearly 4,000 entrants.
“It was just tremendous to have a near-record field, and have a course record,” he said. “There’s not much more I could ask for. I’m very happy.”