Kenyans Sweep Men’s, Women’s Titles At NYC Half Marathon

Sally Kipyego and Geoffrey Mutai fly the Kenyan flag after winning in New York. Photo: www.photorun.net

Great Britain’s Mo Farah causes a stir with a mid-race fall in Central Park

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — Kenyans swept the top spots at Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon, as Sally Kipyego and Geoffrey Mutai claimed runaway victories in 1:08:31 and 1:00:50, respectively, in very cold conditions. Kipyego, a member of the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite racing in her debut half marathon, clocked a new event record by four seconds.

“It went fantastic. I knew I was fit coming in but just because it was a new distance I didn’t really know how it was going to turn out,” Kipyego told WABC-TV moments after winning. “I’m just so glad that I got my first win in the half marathon on the streets of New York.”

Through the opening kilometers of the women’s race, Kipyego was joined by American Molly Huddle, Great Britain’s Gemma Steel, Croatia’s Lisa Stublic, and Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba. Together the pack would run up and down the hills of Central Park.

Leaving the park just before the 10K mark, Kipyego and Huddle had established themselves out front, somewhat of a surprise considering both were racing their first half marathons. Tagging along was Deba, last year’s TCS New York City Marathon runner-up.

After turning onto the West Side Highway, Kipyego began to pull away just before the 10-mile mark (about 16K). Running side by side with a pair of men, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000m extended her lead with each step taken towards Lower Manhattan.

“It was very good. I think it was a little of everything, the last bit of it was a little bit downhill so I think that helped a lot,” she said. “The last three miles were painful.”

Kipyego approached the finish with no one in sight, breaking the tape with a beaming smile and her hands in the air in 1:08:31. Kipyego dipped under Firehiwot Dado’s event record of 1:08:35 by four seconds which was set on a slightly different course.

Kipyego said she sees a future in the event, though for the time being she’ll return to the track.

“I look forward to maybe going into the marathon in the future, but for right now I’ll go back to track and see how the summer goes,” she said.

Rounding out the top three were Deba, second in 1:08:59 (a new personal best by 54 seconds), with Huddle third in 1:09:04.

“It was good. I think I stuck my nose in it in the beginning and the distance got to me a little in the end, but it was definitely a fun experience. I definitely want to do another one,” said Huddle, 29. “It was what I expected. I knew the last three miles would be my questionable, uncomfortable zone, and it was, so I think I can work on that and definitely get better at it.”

Placing seventh overall, second among Americans, was Desiree (Davila) Linden in 1:11:37. She will race the Boston Marathon on April 21.

RELATED: Mid-Race Fall Doesn’t Faze Farah

Farah Falls Hard

The men’s race really got going when Geoffrey Mutai began pushing out front shortly beyond 5 kilometers. When Mutai took control of the pace, double Olympic champion Mo Farah immediately responded, shedding his outer layer and moving into Mutai’s slipstream. Also tagging along was Kenya’s Stephen Sambu, a training partner of Bernard Lagat.

In a scene reminiscent of the 2011 NYC Half — a race Farah won — a mid-race fall in Central Park would mix things up. Farah, running close on the leader’s heels between miles five and six (8k to 10K), got tangled up and fell hard to the ground. Losing about 20 meters, Farah returned to his feet only to see Mutai and Sambu having broken away out front.

Mutai’s sudden surge wasn’t a direct result of Farah’s fall, the athlete said.

“Together, my colleague, we were leading in the front. We didn’t — we only knew someone fell down, but we did not know who was that. So we continue with our pace,” said Mutai. “We did not know. We come to realize later in the finishing that it was Mo. Unfortunately, we were disappointed because we were expecting a challenge from him.”

After passing through Times Square together, Mutai broke from Sambu thanks to a quick 4:25 mile split. Sporting a long sleeve shirt to fight off the biting cold, Mutai continued to open up his stride down the West Side Highway.

Cruising to the win in 1:00:50 Mutai, like Kipyego, earned $20,000 for finishing first.

“For me, as I was continuing alone, I tried to push it, and I know I was testing my body,” said Mutai, who will race the Virgin Money London Marathon in four weeks. “I know I had good training. So for me, I do not mind where I was in the race. For me, I was testing my body. When I am in a race, I’m focusing for that race. I’m not only looking for my colleagues as I know, when someone is strong, we’ll push it together. But for me, I’m running my own race all the time.”

With his NYC Half win, Mutai now has three major victories in the Big Apple: in 2011 he won the TCS New York City Marathon in a course record of 2:05:06, returning last year to claim the top spot once again in 2:08:24.

RELATED: Farah To Face Fast Field In London

While Mutai led out front in the race’s latter stages, Farah put in a valiant effort to catch back up to Sambu. In the Battery Park Tunnel, Farah drew even, eventually passing for second in the final 105-meter straight to the finish line. It was a remarkable recovery given how hard he had fallen.

“Yeah, I’m not sure what happened. I just remember falling down and hit the ground quite hard,” Farah told reporters. “At that point, I just wanted to get back up and get behind, get with the group.”

Moments after crossing the line in 1:01:07, Farah collapsed at the finish line, and received immediate medical attention. He was taken to the medical tent in a wheelchair, but was able to walk under his own steam when he left the recovery area.

“I don’t remember passing out, but I think it was just I tried so hard in the race, obviously, taking a fall and then going through,” Farah recounted. “I’m all right. It’s fine. It’s no big deal.”

Taking third was Sambu in 1:01:08. Matt Tegenkamp was the top American, sixth in 1:02:05; it was his debut half marathon.

“I thought I was in really good fitness coming in. I was a little disappointed just — I mean, we lost probably 40 seconds in the first 2.5 miles of the race,” said Tegenkamp. “By mile 11, I started really cramping up, my right side, but like I’m glad I’ve run a marathon before because I knew it was just kind of the bad patch of the race, just check off a little bit, regroup. And I still felt really strong all the way into the finish, felt like I had a really strong finish, was able to change gears. I think there’s a lot of exciting things to look forward to in 2014.”

Meb Keflezighi, who led briefly early in the race, finished 10th in 1:02:53. He’ll be racing the Boston Marathon next month.

This was the ninth, and largest, edition of the NYC Half. The New York Road Runners reported a record 20,750 finishers.

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