NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan is the first U.S. female runner to win the New York City Marathon since 1977. It might have been the final marathon of her decorated career.
The 36-year-old clocked 2:26:53, shockingly beating three-time defending champion and world-record holder Mary Keitany of Kenya by 61 seconds on Sunday (finish video here).
“This is the moment that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl,” Flanagan said on ESPN2. “It’s a moment, though, that I’m just trying to soak up and savor right now because I feel like this is the kind of moment that we dream of to find out our potential and realize how incredible we can be.”
Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor won the men’s race in 2:10:53, holding off surging countryman Wilson Kipsang by three seconds.
Meb Keflezighi, racing his 26th and final marathon at age 42, was 11th in 2:15:29. He collapsed in exhaustion at the finish line and was helped up by family members.
“A sense of relief,” Keflezighi, the only person to win an Olympic medal and the Boston and New York City Marathons, said on ESPN2. “Today was a struggle, but to get to that finish line was a magical moment.”
NYC MARATHON: Full results | Meb’s emotional final marathon
Flanagan is the first U.S. female runner to win the five-borough race since Miki Gorman in 1977, doing so after one of the most difficult years of her 15-year elite career.
The four-time Olympian Flanagan put a gap between Keitany and third-place Ethiopian Mamitu Daska in the 24th mile. She extended it in Central Park. She tearfully crossed the finish after appearing to exclaim profanely and blowing a kiss.
Flanagan then turned to her left and took about a dozen steps. She found Keflezighi’s cheering section and was engulfed in a hug.
“That was for Meb,” she told race director Peter Ciaccia seconds later. (Keflezighi later said that he heard Flanagan won on his 24th and mile, “and I think I did a jump with both hands in the air.”)
Flanagan teased possible retirement before this race, in the unlikely event that she won. She plans to discuss her future with coaches Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert on Sunday night.
“We’ll have some decisions to make,” she said.
“If she wants to continue, I think we’ll get the best version we’ve seen of Shalane,” Schumacher said. “This can continue for a while, but if she doesn’t, then what a great way to finish.”
Flanagan has been the leading woman in U.S. distance running for about the last decade. She won an Olympic 10,000m silver medal in 2008 and made her marathon debut in New York City in 2010, finishing second.
She had not raced New York since but was strong in the years between — making two more Olympic teams, including winning the 2012 Olympic Trials and placing third in the 2014 Berlin Marathon. She was the top American in the Rio Olympic marathon in sixth.
But this year, she withdrew ahead of April’s Boston Marathon with a back fracture that kept her from running for 10 weeks. She then missed the outdoor world championships team in the 10,000m by placing fourth at nationals in June. She had made every Olympic and world outdoor championships team from 2004 through 2016.
“Sometimes we don’t realize in the moment when we feel like dreams are taken away, that actually there is some delayed gratification down the road,” Flanagan said Sunday before she broke down in tears answering the first question of a press conference. “I think it was a blessing that I got injured last winter.”
Keitany, a 35-year-old mother of two, was an overwhelming pre-race favorite. Not only had she won New York the last three years, but the Kenyan also broke Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record in winning her third London Marathon crown in 2:17:01 on April 23.
But Keitany revealed after running 2:27:54 (nearly three minutes slower than her worst time in her last four NYC starts) that she incurred “a problem with my home” on Saturday at about 3 p.m. Keitany was asked to specify but declined, saying only that it was not an injury.
Flanagan’s upset capped an incredible year for U.S. women in the marathon.
Jordan Hasay, 26, made her marathon debut, finishing third in both Boston in April and Chicago in October.
Hasay had the fastest debut marathon by a U.S. woman in Boston. Then, in Chicago, she moved to No. 2 on the U.S. all-time list behind Deena Kastor.
Amy Cragg took bronze at the world championships in August, becoming the first U.S. man or woman to make a world championships marathon podium since 1993.
Also Sunday, Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist, saw her streak of four straight New York wheelchair titles end.
Swiss Manuela Schar distanced McFadden by 2:52. A month earlier, McFadden won the Chicago Marathon with Schar in third place, two seconds behind.
McFadden closed out a difficult 2017. She was diagnosed with blood clots in her legs in February, requiring an operation. She was hospitalized again in early spring and then finished fourth in the Boston Marathon on April 17.
Swiss Marcel Hug repeated as men’s wheelchair race winner on Sunday in 1:37:21.
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