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Priscah Jeptoo Wins New York City Marathon

Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba is runner-up for the second time in a row.

Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba is runner-up for the second time in a row. 

Two years ago, Buzunesh Deba and her Ethiopian countrywoman, Firehiwot Dado, used a come-from-behind strategy to place second and first, respectively, in the ING New York City Marathon. After a one-year hiatus due to the race’s cancellation in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Deba, who considers New York her adopted hometown, turned that tactic on its head, bolting to a huge early lead with training partner Tigist Tufa before being reeled in by Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo just before 23 miles. The end result was the same, another runnerup finish in 2:25:56, 49 seconds behind the Kenyan.

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For Jeptoo, the victory was more than doubly sweet; besides taking the Rudin Trophy and the $100,000 first place paycheck, her win sewed up the 2012-2013 World Marathon Majors title, worth an additional half million dollars.

For the first half of the race, it seemed that only Deba and Tufa were interested in running at faster than training pace. Clipping off miles in the 5:30 range, the duo were almost instantly well ahead of the main pack before they’d even come off the Verrazano Bridge. “My plan was to run my pace,” said Deba. “My training had gone well, and I was confident.”

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“When they went off, I wanted to run with them, but with the wind, I didn’t feel confident, so I decided to run with the pack,” said Jelena Prokopcuka, back in New York for the first time in six years.

Deba and Tufa’s lead continued to grow as they ran in tandem through Brooklyn, reaching 3:24 by the halfway point.

As the chase group began to follow them across the Queensboro Bridge at 16 miles, Jeptoo visibly began working harder, and the pack began to splinter, leaving her 10 seconds in front and off in pursuit of the early pacesetters.

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It was almost as if Jeptoo had decided to turn the marathon into a 16-mile warmup and a 10 mile race, as she suddenly dropped her pace to the low five-minute range. That had the effect of cutting into Deba’s leads in huge chunks of 20 and 30 seconds. By 22 miles Deba’s lead was down to 38 seconds; a few minutes later, Jeptoo caught Tufa, who had dropped off Deba’s side a few minutes earlier. That was the same time that Deba, who later revealed she’d been suffering from a stomach cramp since the eighth mile, was hit with a bout of stomach distress that barely seemed to break her stride.

By that point she was also in the sights of the cruising Jeptoo, who closed down the remaining margin just before 24 miles, then kept right on going to a 49-second victory. “I wanted to close the gap before 40K, because after that I knew it might be difficult to win” said the Kenyan. “I was very happy to see the finish line,” she continued. “I used a lot of energy trying catch them.”

Once Tufa had dropped off the lead, she quickly drifted back, eventually finishing eighth in 2:29:24, the last female finisher to break 2:30. The fastest of the chase group turned out to be Prokopcuka, who won here in 2005 and 2006, and was third behind Paula Radcliffe’s NYCM debut in 2007. After that she took time off to start a family, and was planning on making her return to New York last year. In fact, after overcoming numerous Sandy-induced travel setbacks, Prokopcuka finally arrived two days before the race, only to learn of the cancellation as she was standing in the customs line at the airport.

“My dream was to come here and finish on the podium. I know this course, I like it, and I know the last part is hard, so I wanted to push to there and try to open up a gap,” she said.

Jeptoo seemed relatively nonplussed for someone who had just earned a potentially life-changing half million dollar check, and said the win-or-nothing scenario she faced before the race wasn’t a factor in her strategy. “I was running for the win here, not worrying about what it meant for the series,” she said. “My training was good, I knew I was in good shape.”

Adriana Nelson of Boulder, Colo., the reigning U.S. half-marathon champion, was the top American finisher in 13th, running 2:35:05.

Stay tuned to’s complete coverage page throughout the day for updates, quotes, photos and more from the ING New York City Marathon!