With today's victory in the New York City Marathon, Kenyan Joseph Chebet finally achieved a second that won him praise rather than apologetic looks.
Seemingly doomed to a runner-up finish in every major race he entered before this year, Chebet reversed the trend this spring by winning the Boston Marathon. Today, he outsprinted Portugal's Domingos Castro over the last mile in Central Park to win his second major marathon of the year in 2 hours 9 minutes 14 seconds.
In the 1997 and 1998 New York City Marathons, Chebet finished second behind Kenyan John Kagwe, who finished fifth today. In between those results, Chebet also finished second at the 1998 Boston Marathon.
"I am very much happy, because being second, when I go to Kenya, they say, 'Why, why, why three seconds?' " Chebet, 29, said. "They tell me: 'You have a chance of winning. You keep on training. You go to New York and you will win.' I'm sure they are happy with me."
Moving with long, easy strides through the final grueling miles, Chebet never wavered once he surged ahead of Castro at Mile 25. Castro, despite furiously pumping his arms and baring his teeth in a determined grimace, finished six seconds behind.
Chebet thus completed the Boston-New York double and moved into a prominent place in marathoning history. Chebet joins roadracing legends Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar as the only runners to win the Boston and New York City Marathons in the same year. Salazar accomplished his double in 1982 and Rodgers did it in 1978 and 1979.
Another very happy runner was Mexico's Adriana Fernandez, who became the first Mexican woman to win the New York City Marathon with her runaway victory in 2:25:06--two minutes and 28 seconds faster than Kenyan runner-up Catherine Ndereba.
Fernandez wore a look of complete exhaustion when she broke the tape, having run the last 13.1 miles a minute faster than she ran the first half. She raised her arms briefly, then crossed herself, and walked on wobbly legs to a rest area.
Fernandez finished second in last year's New York City Marathon behind Italy's Franca Fiacconi, who took an early lead today but couldn't keep pace when Fernandez broke away in the 15th mile. Fiacconi said she was bothered by elbow and foot injuries.
"When I finished second here last year, my confidence level went through the roof," Fernandez said. "After that race, I was talking about winning races, not necessarily being top five or going for a fast time."
Fernandez, 28, said her training at the volcano Toluca in Mexico, which is 12,000 feet above sea level, aided her preparation for the hilly, difficult course. She said she was slowed, however, by the 20-mile-per-hour wind gusts.
"It was very windy out there, and I ran by myself," she said. "I believe that I could run the course record [2:24:40] if the conditions were better. I am hoping to come back next year to do it."
The wind gusted from the start, with temperatures nearly ideal in the mid-forties. The first American to cross the finish line was Dan Middleman, 30, of Raleigh, N.C., who finished 26th in 2:24:52.
Kagwe failed in his bid to become the first man since Salazar in 1980-82 to win three straight New York City Marathons, falling away from Chebet and Castro in the 23rd mile. Yet he wore a beaming smile throughout his post-race press conference. Kagwe cheerfully saluted the winners and detailed being tripped five times by another runner early in the race.
Kagwe said a Moroccan runner seemed to be intentionally going after his right leg. Kagwe added that he considered punching the runner but decided to forgive him instead.
"I said, 'Oh, no, this is a race and if I hit him then I will be the one that will be sued,' " Kagwe said.
Added Kagwe, his broad smile intact: "I was planning to win the race like the other guys. It is good to lose because every day is not the same day. Some days, some have depression, some days you have happiness. So it is okay."
Chebet was among a pack of eight entering the final 3.5 mile stretch in Central Park. Castro, Kagwe and Chebet broke ahead at about the 22nd mile. As Kagwe dropped back, Castro and Chebet ran shoulder to shoulder through Mile 25, when Chebet made his move.
"Chebet is a strong athlete," Castro said. "When he pushed, I had some problems in my legs. [They were] a little tired."
Kagwe, who threw off his cap entering Central Park, had the same problem: "I was thinking I would try to catch up, but then my energy kept going away. I had the will, but my body could not comply."
Chebet clearly had enough of second-place finishes. He said he gained strength by training longer than he did last year--3 1/2 months before this year's Boston and New York City races rather than 2 1/2 months, his previous training schedule.
Castro tried to take the lead about four times over the last two miles, but Chebet never let him get away. And then he made his own move.
"When he opened, I closed the gap," Chebet said. "So that is the time I think: 'Maybe this man, I can beat him.' All the time he wants to leave, I close on him."