Ethiopians and Kenyans dominate 2023 New York City Marathon

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Tamirat Tola, of Ethiopia, crosses the finish line in the professional men’s division of the New York City Marathon, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in New York. Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP

NEW YORK (AP) — Tamirat Tola wasn’t thinking about breaking the New York City Marathon course record as he was running by himself in Central Park for the last few miles of the race. He just was focused on trying to win.

The Ethiopian runner broke the 12-year old mark, finishing the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 58 seconds on Sunday — eight seconds faster than Geoffrey Mutai in 2011.

“The people of New York is amazing to give me moral support every kilometer,” Tola said. “I’m happy for them. Thank you all people. It’s a long kilometers to do alone. … I’m not thinking about a lot. I’m thinking to win. So this is nice.”

Tola, who finished fourth in the race in 2018 and 2019, pulled away from countrymate Jemal Yimer when the pair were heading toward the Bronx at mile 20. By the time Tola headed back into Manhattan a mile later he was up by 19 seconds and left only chasing Mutai’s mark. The 32-year-old was a late add to the field, joining three weeks ago.

Albert Korir of Kenya, who won the 2021 NYC Marathon, finished second nearly two minutes behind Tola.

While there wasn’t much drama in the men’s race after Tola pulled away, the women’s competition came down to the final stretch. Hellen Obiri of Kenya pulled away in the final 400 meters to take the women’s title.

The 33-year-old Obiri ran New York for the first time last year and finished sixth.

“My first debut here was terrible for me, and I say like I don’t want to come back here next year,” Obiri said. “After that, I said, wow, I’m here again. So you know sometimes you learn from your mistakes, so I did a lot of mistakes last year, so I said I want to try to do my best.”

She sure did.

Obiri, Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia and defending champion Sharon Lokedi were all running together exchanging the lead. Obiri made a move as the trio headed back into Central Park for the final half-mile pulling away. She finished in 2:27:23. Gidey finished second, six seconds behind.

Lokedi was 10 seconds behind Obiri, who won the Boston Marathon in April. She’s the first woman to win those two marathons in the same year since Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen did it in 1989.

This was a stellar women’s field that was expected to potentially take down the course record of 2:22:31 set by Margaret Okayo in 2003. Unlike last year when the weather was unseasonably warm with temperatures in the 70s, Sunday’s race was much cooler with it being in the 50s — ideal conditions for record breaking times and for the 50,000 runners.

Instead, the women had a tactical race with 11 runners, including Americans Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle in the lead pack for the first 20 miles. Taylor and Huddle both led the group at points before falling back and finishing in eighth and ninth.

“The first 20 miles, I was like what the heck was going on,” Taylor said. “It was super weird, one of the weirdest races I ever ran with the caliber of talent in the field. There were talks of breaking the course record and doing all the things, after a bit it was like that’s not going to happen. We’re running six-minute pace for no good reasons. Sometimes that’s how races play out. You can jump on board and do that or do your own thing. Today i just decide to jump onboard and try and hang on.”

Once the lead group came back into Manhattan for the final few miles, Obiri, Gidey and Lokedi pushed the pace.

As the trio entered Central Park they further distanced themselves from Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, who finished fourth.

The men’s and women’s winners finished within a few minutes of each other. About an hour earlier, Marcel Hug won the men’s wheelchair race, finishing a few seconds short of his own course record by finishing in 1:25:29. It was the Swiss star’s record-extending sixth NYC Marathon victory.

“It’s incredible. I think it takes some time to realize what happened,” Hug said. “I’m so happy as well.”

He’s the most decorated champion in the wheelchair race at the event, breaking a tie with Tatyana McFadden and Kurt Fearnley for most wins in the division in event history.

Catherine Debrunner of Switzerland won her New York debut, shattering the course record in the women’s wheelchair race. She finished in 1:39:32, besting the previous mark by over 3 minutes, which was held by American Susannah Scaroni.

“It’s difficult to describe in words. I said to my coach if I win this race, it’s the best performance I ever showed,” she said. “Knew it’s the toughest marathon of all. It was the first time. I knew it was going to be so tough.”

Debrunner and Tola both earned a $50,000 bonus for topping the previous course records.

TICKETS TO PARIS

Daniel Romanchuk and Aaron Pike qualified for the 2024 Paris Games by finishing as the top Americans in the men’s wheelchair race. Scaroni and McFadden qualified on the women’s side for the Olympics.

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