John Kagwe did not have to worry about loose shoelaces this time.
Instead, he had to contend with Kenyan countryman Joseph Chebet and Tanzania's Zebedayo Bayo.
For the second straight year, Kagwe proved the best, winning the New York City Marathon on Sunday in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 45 seconds -- three seconds ahead of Chebet in the second-closest finish in the race's 29-year history.
"Last year, I felt it was my race to win," Kagwe said. "This year, I was not that sure. Chebet was tough."
Kagwe disproved the theory that a runner had to perform well in shorter races leading to the marathon. Last year, he finished second in the Philadelphia Distance Run Half-Marathon in his final preparation for New York. This year, he was eighth.
While Kagwe was pressed by Chebet and Bayo, who was third at 2:08:51, the women's race turned into a runaway for Franca Fiacconi.
She became the first Italian to win the women's division, setting a personal best by nearly three minutes. She was timed in 2:25:17, beating runner-up Adriana Fernandez of Mexico (a national record of 2:26:33) by more than a minute and world record-holder Tegla Loroupe of Kenya by more than five minutes.
This was the second-fastest NYC Marathon by a woman, behind only Australia's Lisa Ondieki, who ran 2:24:40 in 1992.
Loroupe, who set the world record of 2:20:47 at Rotterdam in April and won the New York City Marathon n 1994 and 1995, couldn't overcome severe stomach cramps and finished third at 2:30:28.
| Kenya's John Kagwe was faster than countryman Joseph Chebet -- by only three seconds! (AP) |
"I wanted to break 2:28," said Fiacconi, who had finished second at New York in 1996 and third last year. "That was my goal. If I did, I thought I would win."
"I was not afraid of Tegla. I was not intimidated by her or anyone else."
At one point, Loroupe thought of withdrawing.
"At five kilometers I started to feel my stomach," she said. "At 20K I wanted to pull out. Then I decided to slow it down."
Defending champion Franziska Moser-Rochat of Switzerland, who has been hampered by two stress fractures this year, finished fifth at 2:32:37.
Perhaps the most heartwarming story was that of Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Winner of the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984, the 41-year-old was attempting to qualify for the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials. Samuelson reached her goal, breaking 2:50. Her time of 2:41:06 made her the second American finisher -- 12th overall -- behind Libbie Hickman of Fort Collins, Colo., who was sixth at 2:33:06, a career best.
The leading American man was Alfredo Vigueras of Woodland, Calif., 18th at 2:16:14.
Last year, Kagwe, wearing new running shoes, had to stop twice to tie his laces and ran the final three miles with loose laces flapping against his legs. But he had a huge lead over Chebet and the shoelaces made no difference in the outcome, only that he possibly could have broken the course record.
His time in 1997 was 2:08:12 -- 11 seconds off the course mark of 2:08:01 by Tanzania's Juma Ikangaa in 1989.
On Sunday, he dueled with Chebet and Bayo. Bayo dropped out of contention shortly after they entered Central Park for the final stretch, leaving the two Kenyans to duel.
The closest finish in the history of the race was two seconds, in 1994 when Mexico's German Silva rallied after making a wrong turn and beat countryman Benjamin Paredes.
"I decided to push the pace, especially in the last 400 meters," Kagwe said. "I decided to go and see if Chebet would stay with me."
It was another frustrating second-place finish for Chebet, who also was the Boston Marathon runner-up in April.
"I may have to change my tactics and train differently for a close, tough finish," Chebet said. "I lost in the last 100 meters. I'll sit down with my coach and plan something. It's hard to take second-place finishes so often."
The jubilant Fiacconi, whose time was an Italian record, gave the thumbs-up sign twice shortly before the end, then bent and kissed the ground after crossing the finish lne.
Before her last two New York races, Fiacconi had run marathons within close proximity. This time, she refrained, and was much fresher.
"I understood at 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) that I could win," Fiacconi said after winning her eighth marathon in 20 tries. "I decided to pull away then."
Two of the biggest names failed to finish. Spain's Abel Anton, the 1997 world champion, dropped out before 17 miles, and South African Josia Thugwane, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, quit before mile 19. It was the second time Thugwane had dropped out of New York. In 1995, he went out after 22 miles with leg injuries.
The weather at the start of the 26.2-mile race was perfect for marathoners -- 50 degrees, 61 percent humidity, 6 mph wind -- as well as spectators, with an estimated 2 million lining the streets of the city's five boroughs.
Kagwe and Fiacconi each collected $50,000 plus bonus money for their winning times.
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