NEW YORK – A Brazilian man made New York City Marathon history. A Latvian woman ran away from the field to win her second straight title.
And with the exception of Lance Armstrong, who thrilled the crowds by finishing his first marathon in less than 3 hours, it was a day of disappointment for the Americans.
Surprisingly, it also was a bad day for the African men who have dominated this race for a decade.
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Marilson Gomes dos Santos made a remarkable debut, breaking away from the lead pack in the last quarter of Sunday's race and holding off an all-star field of challengers to become the first South American to win the race. Gomes finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds.
"I pushed the pace to get less people in the group," Gomes said through an interpreter. "As I did that I kept pushing and they kept staying behind."
A pair of Kenyans, Stephen Kiogora and defending champion Paul Tergat, worked together to push Gomes at the end, but ran out of room and finished second and third. Kenyan men also took the third through seventh spots. It was the first time in 10 years that an African man didn't win the race.
The top American was Peter Gilmore, who finished 10th in 2:13:13. U.S. runner Dathan Ritzenhein, making his marathon debut, was 11th in 2:14:01.
In the women's race, defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka sped away from the other top contenders early in the race and ran by herself at the end, becoming the first woman in more than a decade to win two straight titles in New York.
The Latvian's bold move away from the lead pack turned the race into little more than a coronation and crushed the hopes of Deena Kastor, the world's top-ranked marathoner, who was favored to become the first American woman to win the race since 1977.
Prokopcuka led nearly from start to finish and won in 2:25:05 on a perfect day for a marathon — cool, cloudy and little wind. Kastor finished sixth in 2:27:54. Prokopcuka is the first woman to win two straight titles since Tegla Loroupe of Kenya in 1994-95.
A record 38,368 runners started the race.
Armstrong crossed with an unofficial time of 2:59:37, easily making his goal of finishing within an hour of the men's winner. The seven-time Tour de France champion struggled at times to stay on a 3-hour pace he had expected of himself, but — as he has so many times in cycling — found the energy to meet the challenge. He was battling shin splints and had never before run longer than 16 miles.
"It wasn't great preparation," Armstrong said after he crossed the finish line, the pain evident on his face. "I'm happy that I broke 3 hours."
In the men's race, a pack of nine runners that included three Americans led for the first three-quarters of the race. Gomes made his move heading into The Bronx, quickly opening a 30-second lead and maintaining it for the next few miles.
Tergat and Kiogora made a joint effort to catch the Brazilian as the race wound through Central Park. In the final mile, along Central Park South, Gomes looked over his shoulder several times as the Kenyans closed in. But then he pulled away for the victory.
Wearing black gloves and sleeves up over his biceps, a black cap and yellow tank top, Gomes came across the finish line with his arms raised, then made the sign of the cross. Wide smiles crossed the Kenyans' faces as they crossed behind the winner and embraced Gomes, who wore a pained look.
Prokopcuka led nearly from start to finish. She separated from the other favorites in the opening few strides of the race on the Verrazano Bridge, and joined Tatiana Hladyr of Ukraine in a breakaway as the race wound through Brooklyn. By the time the race reached Manhattan, the two Eastern European women had built their lead to 40 seconds.
They kept pouring it on, extending their lead to nearly 90 seconds — more than a quarter-mile on the streets of New York — as they headed into the Bronx and then back into Manhattan, where Prokopcuka moved away from Hladyr for the final segment heading toward the finish line in Central Park.
Prokopcuka had no idea why the other top runners didn't stay with her from the start.
"I didn't understand what was going on," she said. "It was a situation I couldn't understand."
Hladyr finished second in 2:26:05, exactly a minute behind Prokopcuka. A pair of Kenyans, four-time Boston Marathon winner Catherine Ndereba and 2006 Boston winner Rita Jeptoo, were third and fourth. Katie McGregor, an American making her marathon debut, was ninth.
Kastor had vowed to run a tactical race, and said the other top women's runners may have done the same thing — worrying so much about each other that perhaps they didn't take Prokopcuka's break seriously enough.
"I think we were being a little tentative, and by the time it was ready to roll it was too late," she said. "I think out of respect to the other women. I think we were all tentative in seeing what the others wanted to do."
The women's and men's winners of the race, whose primary sponsor is Dutch financial services company ING, will get $130,000.
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