NEW YORK (18-Mar) -- Two-person races played out on both the men's and women's sides here at the seventh edition of the NYC Half, with Firehiwot Dado and Peter Kirui getting the best of Kim Smith and Deriba Merga, respectively. Dado backed up her surprise ING New York City Marathon victory last November, breaking the tape in an event record 1:08:35, while Kirui ran 59:39, the second-fastest time ever here.
Early on in Central Park the 30-year-old Smith, who recently came back to the United States from a training stint in her native New Zealand, went to the front, leading the way up and down the park's famous hills at a sub-67 minute pace. Running on Smith's heels, just as she did to Buzunesh Deba in last November's marathon here, Dado was waiting to make a move and take over the lead.
"She's also a very strong runner, and she led almost the whole way," explained Dado after the race through a translator. "I was feeling some fatigue, but I was able to keep up with her and bide my time to kick."
The break would come with a little over 800m to go as the tandem worked their way up and out of the Battery Park Underpass on the southern tip of Manhattan to the final 300 meter straightaway to the finish line in Water Street.
"She kind of took it out, took off a little bit up that little rise in the tunnel, after the tunnel, and I just was feeling pretty tired at that point, and she got away," said Smith. Hoping that Dado would fade as they neared the finish, Smith was trying to match the move. "I just tried to tell myself she must be hurting as much as me, but obviously she wasn't," she laughed.
Dado was feeling some fatigue, she said later, but not as much as Smith. Crossing in a new event record of 1:08:35, Dado is now two-for-two in the Big Apple.
"I'm very happy to have broken the course record; it helps me prepare for my next race," said Dado, who will now turn her attention to next month's Boston Marathon.
Behind her, Smith would finish in 1:08:43 --also breaking Caroline Rotich's one year-old event record on a different course-- while American Kara Goucher placed third in 1:09:12, running most of the race alone. Dutchwoman Hilda Kibet and American Janet Cherobon-Bawcom would round out the top five. An impressive 15 women broke 72 minutes, and 11 of the top-30 set personal best times.
"Honestly, with Kim in the race I kind of expected it to go quick," said Goucher, who just qualified for her third Olympic team. But when the Olympian hit the 5-K mark in about 16-minutes, and saw the leaders 30-seconds ahead, she realized the pace was a bit too hot for her liking. "My body doesn't work that way, at least not right now, so they were gone."
Desiree Davilla, recently second in the USA Olympic Marathon Trials, used the race as an indicator of her fitness, and placed ninth in 1:10:44.
On the men's side, Deriba Merga took off from the gun, immediately separating himself from the majority of the field. The only two athletes to maintain contact were Kenya's Peter Kirui and Deriba's Ethiopian compatriot Feyisa Lilesa, the bronze medalist at last year's IAAF World Championships Marathon.
Similar to Smith and Dado, Merga and Kirui would soon have the roads to themselves, dueling their way out of Central Park, through Times Square, and down the West Side Highway. In the early kilometers they were running at a sub-59:00 pace.
"I and him, we start faster," said Kirui post-race. Merga added, "I did not expect that any other people would come with us at the beginning because I knew the pace was extremely high."
Not until the final 800 meters did Kirui begin to use his track speed, the same speed that propelled the 24-year-old to the Kenyan 10,000m title last year. Running north on Water Street towards the finish, Kirui opened a gap, ultimately crossing the line nine seconds up on Merga, 59:39 to 59:48. Lilesa would take third (1:00:45) before a pack of 12 athletes led by Kenya's Wesley Korir would cross the finish line in a span of just 33 seconds, from 1:01:19 to 1:01:52.
"I tried to stay with the pack as long as possible and at probably eleven and a half miles, I finally got gapped," said Dathan Ritzenhein, who finished at the tail end of that pack in 15th place. "It was kind of a struggle the last two miles."
Placing fifth through seventh were a trifecta of Nike Oregon Track Club athletes --Sam Chelanga, Kevin Chelimo, and Chris Thompson-- who finished within four seconds of each other. Both Chelimo and Thompson made successful half-marathon debuts in 1:01:21 and 1:01:23, respectively. The top American was Meb Keflezighi, twelfth in 1:01:41.
The race recorded a record 15,331 finishers and, according to race director Mary Wittenberg, raised $4.8 million for charity.
"What an unbelievable day and week," Wittenberg said in an e-mail to her staff today.
1. Peter Cheruiyot Kirui, KEN, 59:39 PB
2. Deriba Merga, ETH, 59:48
3. Feyisa Lilesa, ETH, 1:00:45
4. Wesley Korir, KEN, 1:01:19 PB
5. Sam Chelanga, KEN, 1:01:19 PB
6. Kevin Chelimo, KEN, 1:01:21 DB
7. Chris Thompson, GBR, 1:01:23 DB
8. Scott Overall, GBR, 1:01:25 PB
9. Marilson Gomes Dos Santos, BRA, 1:01:26
10. Michael Shelley, AUS, 1:01:27 PB
1. Firehiwot Dado, ETH, 1:08:35 ER/PB
2. Kim Smith, NZL, 1:08:43
3. Kara Goucher, USA, 1:09:12
4. Hilda Kibet, NED, 1:09:42
5. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, USA, 1:09:55 PB
6. Madai Perez, MEX, 1:10:05
7. Lisa Weightman, AUS, 1:10:10
8. Caroline Rotich, KEN, 1:10:17
9. Desiree Davila, USA, 1:10:44
10. Bekelech Bedada, ETH, 1:10:54 PB