Dathan Ritzenhein

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Ghirmay Ghebreslassie youngest man to win NYC Marathon; U.S. ends drought

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NEW YORK — Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, a 20-year-old from Eritrea, became the youngest man to win the New York City Marathon, while Americans made both the men’s and women’s podiums for the first time since 1994.

In the women’s race, Kenyan Mary Keitany became the first runner in 30 years to win three straight New York City Marathons.

U.S. Olympians Abdi Abdirahman and Molly Huddle each finished third on Sunday.

New York City Marathon results are here. A record 52,049 people started the 46th running of the five-borough race.

Ghebreslassie won in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 51 seconds, adding to a résumé that includes the 2015 World title and a fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics just 11 weeks earlier.

He beat Kenyan Lucas Rotich by 1:02, becoming the first Eritrean to win a World Marathon Major title and the first non-Kenyan man or woman to win New York City since 2011.

Ghebreslassie, Rotich and Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa broke away in the 14th mile. Desisa dropped back six miles later (and eventually dropped out of the race altogether, along with defending champion Stanley Biwott and top pre-race American hope Dathan Ritzenhein).

Ghebreslassie inched away from Rotich over the final six miles in sunny, upper-50s weather, finishing comfortably enough to turn around, run back and high-five Rotich before the Kenyan crossed.

After, Ghebreslassie exuded self-assurance rather than any sense of astonishment when told of the history he made. When asked about his short turnaround from the Olympics. And when pressed about difficulties faced before or during the race.

“Only the wind,” said Ghebreslassie, the second-oldest of eight children who took a short break from training one month ago to get married. “If you lose your confidence means you are hopeless. If you lose your hope, you can’t do anything.”

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Many had lost hope in Abdirahman long before Sunday’s race.

The four-time Olympian had finished just one marathon since the 2012 Olympic Trials (an unimpressive 2:16:06 at Boston 2014) and turns 40 years old on New Year’s Day. He pulled out before the Olympic Trials marathon in February with a calf injury.

“I didn’t run the Olympic trials, so I told my manager, this is going to be my Olympic trials,” Abdirahman said.

At the 19-mile mark, Abdirahman and five relatively unaccomplished men were 2 minutes, 20 seconds behind the three-man lead group.

When Desisa dropped out in the 22nd mile, Abdirahman suddenly was in the podium mix.

“I thought I might finish fifth, sixth, or seventh,” said Abdirahman, Somalian born and nicknamed the Black Cactus. “When I passed Lelisa, that’s when my eyes just — I don’t know what hit me, but I just get another wind.”

Abdirahman became the first U.S. man to make the New York City podium since Meb Keflezighi won in 2009, a simply stunning result. Keflezighi announced his final marathon Sunday.

“I was telling these guys I was in the Olympics in 2000, and they were looking at me, really?” Abdirahman said. “And I say yes.”

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Keitany, a mother of two and the second-fastest female marathoner ever, crossed the Central Park finish line in 2:24:26. Her margin of victory over countrywoman Sally Kipyego, 3:34, was the largest since 1984.

The last runner to win three straight New York City titles was Norwegian Grete Waitz, who won five of her nine total from 1982 through 1986.

Huddle, a two-time U.S. Olympian on the track making her marathon debut, was third, the best finish by a U.S. women’s runner since Shalane Flanagan was second in 2010.

Gwen Jorgensen, the Olympic triathlon champion in her marathon debut, finished 14th in 2:41:01.

Earlier, Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist, completed her fourth straight sweep of the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City Marathons.

McFadden, born in Russia paralyzed from the waist down and adopted from a St. Petersburg orphanage at age 6 by an American, completed her New York City four-peat on Sunday in 1 hour, 47 minutes, 43 seconds. She won by more than one minute after 26.2 miles.

The 27-year-old became the first women’s wheelchair racer to win four straight New York City Marathons, taking her fifth overall crown. She has won 20 combined World Marathon Major titles.

She’s the only marathoner, able-bodied or wheelchair, to sweep Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in one year, let alone four.

McFadden shockingly lost the Rio Paralympic marathon in a photo finish (video here). The woman who beat McFadden there, China’s Zou Lihong, made her New York City Marathon debut Sunday.

McFadden went to Rio with a shot at seven gold medals in September. She won the 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m and earned silver in the 100m and the marathon. She and the U.S. were disqualified from the 4x400m relay.

Also Sunday, Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the New York City Marathon men’s wheelchair race in a photo finish over Australian Kurt Fearnley. Hug swept the Berlin, Boston and Chicago Marathons this year, plus the Paralympics.

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U.S. wild cards could end New York City Marathon drought

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A U.S. male or female runner hasn’t finished in the New York City Marathon top three in the last four editions, but Sunday’s race may be ripe for a change.

The international fields lack stars from the Olympics. Many sat out the fall season rather than attempting a pair of 26.2-mile races in a three-month stretch.

All six U.S. marathoners from Rio also chose the rest route, but the New York City fields include arguably the next-best Americans.

Molly Huddle tops that list. The two-time Olympian on the track is making the most anticipated American female marathon debut since Shalane Flanagan in 2010.

Huddle, 32, broke the American record in the 10,000m at the Rio Olympics, where she finished sixth. She took that mark from Flanagan, who broke the American 10,000m record at the Beijing Olympics (bronze medal) and made her marathon debut in New York City two years later, placing second.

No U.S. male or female runner recorded a New York City podium result since Flanagan in 2010.

Huddle’s chances to finish in the top three are complicated by the international women’s field of experienced marathoners. There’s a clear top tier of three or four women, three of whom have broken 2 hours, 20 minutes.

The fourth-fastest personal best in the field is 2:24:11. The fifth is 2:27:50, so if one of the top three or four underperforms, the door opens.

Kenyan Mary Keitany is looking to become the first men’s or women’s runner to win three straight New York City titles since Norwegian Grete Waitz took five straight from 1981-86.

Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia took second to Keitany last year. Another Ethiopian, Buzunesh Deba, has run the most recent sub-2:20 of the New York field, at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Huddle said it’s not reasonable to expect her to win against that field. In fact, she would “love to be in the top five or six.”

“I will stick my nose in it, but I think there’s three or four 2:19 and under women,” Huddle said Thursday. “I’ll never put it out of my mind, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for me to be unhappy if I don’t win kind of thing.”

The third-place finisher in recent years ran the following times:

2013 — 2:27:47
2014 — 2:26:00
2015 — 2:25:50

Huddle isn’t the only intriguing U.S. woman making her marathon debut Sunday. Kim Conley, another two-time Olympian on the track, said she hopes to go sub-2:30.

Then there’s the complete wild card, Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen, who has no idea what to expect.

Sara Hall is coming off a personal best at the London Marathon on April 24, a 2:30:06 on a faster course than New York City.

In the men’s race, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein contests his first marathon since he dropped out of the Olympic Trials around mile 20, the first time in 10 marathons that he failed to finish.

Ritzenhein was the fastest American at the 2015 Boston Marathon and has the fastest personal best of any active American, a 2:07:47 from Chicago 2012.

He ranks fifth in personal-best times among Sunday’s field.

In Ritzenhein’s favor: Only six in the field have gone 2:10 or faster (which Ritzenhein has done four times). Two out of that top group are on short rest after racing the Rio Olympic marathon on Aug. 21, and another is Abdi Abdirahman, whose only finished marathon since the 2012 Olympic Trials was a 2:16:06.

The four favorites:

Kenyan defending champion Stanley Biwott (DNF at Rio Olympics)
Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa (runner-up to Biwott in 2015)
Kenyan Lucas Rotich (sub-2:08 in 2014 and 2015; debuting in NYC)
Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (fourth at Rio Olympics; 20 years old)

Ritzenhein’s downfall in recent years has been his health. The 34-year-old said on Thursday that he’s “fresh-ish” going into this race.

Like Huddle, a strong Ritzenhein is right in the podium mix, and especially if one or two of the international headliners has a bad day (which almost always happens). Unlike Huddle, Ritzenhein openly talked about a top-three on Thursday.

“I’d like to be on the podium and have a good chance to win it,” he said. “There’s some very good upfront runners in this race, but it’s also not quite as deep as some years either. I think getting on the podium might be easier than some other years, but winning is no easier than any other year.”

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Olympians added to New York City Marathon field

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Two Americans will go from the Rio Olympic track next month to the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6.

Kim Conley, who made her second Olympic 5000m team earlier this month, will debut in the marathon less than three months after her event final in Rio. The full American field for the race is here.

Conley joins fellow two-time Olympian Molly Huddle in making a 26.2-mile debut in New York. Huddle announced her entry June 9, following a trend of recent great U.S. distance runners, and one month later won the Olympic Trials 10,000m.

The New York field will also include Dathan Ritzenhein, a 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympian who failed to make the Rio team. Ritzenhein was the fastest American at the 2015 Boston Marathon in seventh place (2:11:20) but dropped out of the Olympic Trials marathon on Feb. 13 around mile 20.

Sara Hall, the wife of the retired Ryan Hall (fastest American marathoner of all time), will make her New York City Marathon debut on Nov. 6 as well. Sara Hall was the top American at the London Marathon on April 24 in 12th place.

More Rio Olympians could still be added to the New York City Marathon field.

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