NEW YORK – Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia pulled away from his lone challenger just before entering Central Park and set a record in winning the New York City Marathon dedicated to victims of Sept. 11.
Jifar ran the 26.2 miles in of 2 hours, 7 minutes, 43 seconds on Sunday to become the first Ethiopian to win the race.
The old NYC Marathon time record of 2:08:01 by Juma Ikangaa, Tanzania stood since 1989.
As he strode along the red-white-and-blue lines painted on the asphalt to indicate the route, Jifar had built a lead of more than 20 seconds over Kenya's Japhet Kosgei, the runner-up for the second straight year. Kosgei clocked 2:09:19 unofficially. Another Kenyan, Rodgers Rop, was third, another 33 seconds back.
Jifar, whose first competitive race was only three years ago, was making his debut in New York.
Margaret Okayo of Kenya was the women's winner, unofficially in a course record. She was third last year.
The 32nd running of this race adopted the motto "United We Run," and there were reminders of the terrorist attacks everywhere: from a view of lower Manhattan as runners crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge shortly after the start, to the red and white stripes added to the traditional blue along the course.
There were also about 10 people running in place of relatives who were killed Sept. 11, including Ralph Maerz, a 56-year-old ex-smoker whose 29-year-old son Noell died in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.
Jifar, Kosgei, Rop and 1999 champion Joseph Chebet broke away from the main pack at about the 14-mile mark, and steadily built their lead.
Chebet dropped back with about eight miles to go, and Rop followed shortly, leaving Jifar and Kosgei to duel for victory. Each tried to gain an advantage, and they traded leads that quickly disappeared.
But with about three miles left, Jifar used a final surge that was just too much for Chebet — who had won all four marathons he had entered until last year's second-place finish in New York.
Jifar showed impressive closing speed. His older brother, Habte, is a world-class 10,000-meter runner and persuaded Tisfaye to try the sport.
"I didn't feel anything," said Jifar, who at 12 was blinded in his right eye by a bull's horn.
"No pain, no stress, no problems — that is why I passed Kosgei."
It was a New York City Marathon like no other, and certainly not because two course records were set (helped somewhat by the elimination of a hill near the end of the route).
Runners were told not to accept cups of water from spectators lining the course. The unprecedented marathon security also included more than 2,800 police officers and a no-flight zone banning private airplanes over the marathon route.
At the starting line, 50 doves were released and fluttered off beside arches of red-white-and-blue balloons spanning the bridge. Those colors dotted shirts, shorts and hats worn by runners, and flags and signs held by fans.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who flew back from Phoenix where he attended Game 6 of the World Series on Saturday night, was accorded race bib No. 1, traditionally given to the defending men's champion.
"There has never been a more important time for all these 30,000 people to be running through the streets of the city, and the millions of people lining the route," Giuliani said just before the marathon began.