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Gebremariam Claims NYC Marathon Men’s Race

Young Ethiopian adds to past successes on the track and off-road.

Young Ethiopian adds to past successes on the track and off-road.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

First-time marathoner Gebre Gebremariam, 26, of Ethiopia won the 2010 ING New York City Marathon this morning with a time of 2:08:14. The 2009 world cross country champion made a decisive move in Central Park to pull away from Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai, who was the only other survivor of an early shake-up on First Avenue.

Defending champion Meb Keflezighi of the United States finished sixth.

Gebremariam crossed the finish line at the 2010 ING NYC Marathon.
Gebremariam crosses the finish line at the 2010 ING NYC Marathon.

The drama began before the race even did, as marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia started the morning by tweeting news of fluid buildup in his right knee, which had been medically drained the previous day. He called it a “small problem” and vowed to do his best.

Stiff winds on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge spoiled otherwise ideal conditions (42 degrees, dry) at the men’s elite race start time of 9:40 am. Despite vowing to run cautiously and to follow instead of leading in a pre-race interview on NBC television, Gebrselassie went straight to the front at the gun. The pace, however, was cautious—so restrained that Spain’s Fabian Roncero, 40, quickly lost patience and broke ahead on his own. The move served to wake up the lead pack, which swallowed up Roncero just before the group came off the bridge into Brooklyn, passing the 1-mile mark in a dawdling 5:55.

At 2 miles Abderrahime Bouramdane of Morocco decided enough was enough and surged hard off the front. Again the lead pack responded, putting the pretenders in the bunch under pressure and ultimately causing the first big selection of the race, as only 16 men came through 5K together in 16:25. Among the survivors were Americans Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein, Tim Nelson, and Jorge Torres.

A sort of détente followed over the next few miles as the leaders continued north through Brooklyn at a pace that hovered around 5:00 per mile and was comfortable for everyone. After passing 10K in 32:00, Gebrselassie led the contenders through a more aggressive subsequent 5K (14:52), but the group remained intact at 15K (46:52). The manageable pace and lighter winds encouraged the group to run five and six abreast, with Torres, Geb, and Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai among those regularly in the front row.

Approaching the halfway point (1:05:19) on Pulaski Bridge, James Kwambai launched off the front and the real race began. Mutai was first to cover the move and eventually all but three, including Nelson, were able to catch up, but the pace remained elevated. The Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan brought more attrition, with Torres and Japan’s Arata Fujiwara falling off and Switzerland’s Viktor Rothlin dropping out.

Just shy of the 16-mile mark the inevitable happened, as Geb grimaced and stopped. The man widely regarded as the greatest runner in history was now out. Meanwhile the race went on. Mutai surged maniacally as the pack came off the bridge onto 1st Avenue. Only Bouramdane and Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam survived the following 4:26 mile. But by the 18-mile mark (1:28:40) Kwambai had clawed his way back.

Instead of settling down in the shadow of the other three, Kwambai moved right through and into the lead. The new lead pack of four, from which the winner would certainly emerge, hit 20 miles at 1:38:06, continuing to hold a vicious 4:30/mile pace. Moments later Bouramdane and Kwambai succumbed to the pressure and fell away together as Mutai and Gebremariam moved shoulder to shoulder to prepare for the final fight.

The pair entered Central Park side by side, Gebremariam looking more relaxed. At 24.5 miles the Ethiopian opened a small gap almost unintentionally as the two climbed a hill and Mutai began to struggle. Seizing the opportunity, Gebremariam hit the gas and quickly built an insurmountable gap. He crossed the finish line with the sixth-fastest time in New York City Marathon history (2:08:14), 68 seconds ahead of Mutai. He is the first Ethiopian winner of the event since Tefaye Jafir in 2001.

“Nobody expected me to win,” Gebremariam said. “Even for me, I thought [just] to finish was good.”

Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco caught a second wind to take third place in 2:10:39. Kenya’s Moses Kigen Kosgei passed a fading Kwambai to grab fourth position (2:10:51).

After falling back as far as 11th and 12th place, respectively, Americans Keflezighi and Ritzenhein rallied to finish 6th (2:11:38) and 8th (2:12:33).

“I felt pretty good overall,” Keflezighi said. They just made a move on First Avenue and kept it going. That’s the marathon for you.”