By Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved –
With the temperatures dropping into the mid-thirties (1.5 Celsius) and a chilling wind making it feel even colder, Caroline Rotich and Mo Farah were able to heat up and prevail over fierce competition here at the sixth NYC Half-Marathon this morning.
Under clear blue skies, Rotich, 26, was amongst a women’s lead pack of four through 10-km. With American favorite Kara Goucher, 2010 ING New York City Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, and 2003 IAAF World Cross Country winner Werknesh Kidane, Rotich led the group through Times Square, and onto the West Side Highway for the final flat 5 km to the finish. That’s where the race would be settled.
Rotich, who spent five years attending high school in Sendai, Japan, at the same school as Olympic Marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru, began to step on the gas bit by bit, dropping her followers one by one. First it was Kidane, then Goucher.
With Kiplagat holding on, Rotich threw in a surge at 15-km to shake up the duo. Kiplagat was unable to respond, and the smiling Rotich ran the final six kilometers alone in front. Breaking the tape in a new course record of 1:08:52, Rotich becomes the third Kenyan to win the event, following in Catherine Ndereba and Hilda Kibet’s footsteps. She shattered Mara Yamauchi’s course record of 1:09:25 set last year.
“I didn’t know the course record, and I was not planning on it,” said the shy Kenyan, “so I was just running, and I did it, and I am happy for it.”
Kiplagat hung on for second in 1:09:00, a personal best, while Goucher, the new mother of a six-month old baby boy, finished third in 1:09:03. Kiplagat will run the Virgin London Marathon, while Goucher will toe the line in Hopkinton for the Boston Marathon.
Ahead of the women, the men’s race was a thriller every step of the way, with excitement from Central Park to Lower Manhattan.
With the wind at their backs, the men used the first couple miles to warm up and get the legs loose; no one wanted to set a hard pace early, so leading duties were taken by American Abdi Abdirahman and little known Ethiopian Ezkyas Sisay.
A lead pack formed around 10-km, where Peter Kamais, the defending champion, fellow Kenyan Moses Kigen Kipkosgei, and Irishman Alistair Cragg made their way to the front, with five or six trailing within a few steps behind. Shortly after 10-km, Kamais and American Galen Rupp, making his much-anticipated debut at the half-marathon distance, tangled legs, sending both to the ground. Kamais lacerated his palms, while Rupp badly banged his right hip. It took all of about 800m for the two to catch up to the lead pack.
“Once you got past the initial shock of falling, I just kinda had to calm myself down, and made contact with the lead group pretty quickly,” Rupp said, icing his hip after the race. “Just tried to tell myself to relax, relax, relax.”
Leaving Central Park and making their way through Times Square and onto 42nd Street, the pace picked up steam as Farah asserted himself at the front. Farah, who was also making his debut at the half-marathon distance, looked cool, calm, and collected. Passing 15-km in 43:36, Farah, Rupp, and ING New York City Marathon champion Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia had established themselves as the contenders for the first place prize of $20,000.
Turning onto the West Side Highway, the trio began to make final strategies in preparation for the final three miles. Gebremariam was fine settling himself at the back, similar to what he did in his marathon win last November. But Rupp and Farah knew that the tall Ethiopian had potent finishing speed speed. The 27 year-old Briton decided to surge following a brief pick-up by Rupp, creating an all-out sprint a mile from the finish.
With 400m remaining, it was clear that Farah, who is coming off of a very impressive indoor track season where he won the European Championships at 3000m, had superior speed on this day. He surged away from Gebremariam in the final meters to win in 1:00:23.
“Coming out here, I knew my speed was there,” said Farah, who recently joined Alberto Salazar’s Oregon Project in Portland, Ore., a Nike funded program which Rupp and Goucher are also part of. “It was nice to see that I’ve got speed and endurance, so I probably am in the best shape of my life right now.”
Farah extends a three-year British winning streak, as Yamauchi took first in the women’s race last year and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe did so in 2009.
Gebremariam finished 2.75 seconds back in third, equaling his personal best of 1:00:25, and Rupp came in shortly after in 1:00:30.
“To be able to come out and run strong in the first one, I think is really good, and I am really happy with it,” said a cold Rupp, still trying to get warm following the race.
Salazar’s athletes took three of the six spots on the men’s and women’s podium, earning a win and two thirds.
Rupp led a deep American contingent, which included a 15th place finish by 2009 ING New York Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi, who was hampered by a knee and IT-band issue that flared up early on in the race. One spot behind was Jason Lehmkuhle in 1:02:58, while Abdirahman crossed in 19th, 1:03:12. Keflezighi wins the 50th meeting between himself and Abdirahman, two rivals who have remained great friends.
American half-marathon record holder Ryan Hall finished well back in 1:03:53, 3 minutes and thirty seconds behind the winner. He remains the only American to ever run sub-60 minutes for 21.1 Km. The 28 year-old self-coached Hall will return to racing in April at the Boston Marathon.