Lelisa Desisa wins the sprint finish in New York

Lelisa Desisa wins the sprint finish in New York

Lelisa Desisa started with cool judgment, held on with determined determination, and ended glowing passion for today's New York City Marathon. The Ethiopian's 2:05:59 is the second fastest time in the 48 years of the race. His training partner and protégé Shura Kitata pursued him to the last drop of willpower until Tavern on the Green and will follow Desisa in the record book as the third-fastest ever on this challenging course with 2:06: 01.

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Both disappeared after the finish in a happy three-man hug with their coach Haji Adillo Roma. They had a lot to celebrate. It was Ethiopia Strikes Back, a dramatic turnaround against the seemingly Kenyan dominance of the men's World Marathon in 2018.

Everyone was reading this race wrong, except for Desisa. Prerace, Geoffrey Kamworor from Kenya was generally the hot favorite. He was the defending champion who had excellent track and road times, a close friend of the godlike world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, whom he recently completed in training. With the 24 miles moving smoothly, he seemed to have everything under control, as we all expected.

We were wrong. As Kamworor led worried-looking Desisa through Central Park three miles from the finish, he seemed to be able to withstand the pressure and wait for his moment to break the chain. In the cold statistic of reality, Kamworor slowed to 4:45 in mile 24 after running mile 23 4:29. He hurt. Desisa has chosen the moment. Near mile 25, as we waited for Kamworor to hit the sword, Desisa looked forward, tossing his woolen cap off and throwing the fierce wave that seized the race.

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Desisa knew what he wanted and believed only possible. He has twice won the Boston Marathon and is popular there because he returned his 2013 medal to the city after the bombings this year. But in five attempts in New York, he was always the brave loser, who was on the podium three times without a win. He summed up his New York story neatly after the race, in willing but not perfect English.

"I think, this year I will be champion," he said. "In New York I'm the number 2, number 3, I have not finished a year, again the number 3. This year I decide to be the champion. I'm tired for the champion here. This is my dream. "

While Desisa has been winning marathons since 2013, Kitata is the up and coming force. He made headlines in April when Kipchoge's startling challenger and runner-up in London in a personal best of 2:04:49 burned a fast 59:16 solo half-marathon in Philadelphia in September and started today with youthful self-confidence and aggression. Maybe juvenile folly. It's not often that someone risks the gap in a world-class field on the rather steep first mile of Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.

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"I did everything my trainer told me," Kitata said through an interpreter. "I was extremely confident of a quick time and was happy to be able to lead the race. Later, I felt that effort in my legs, falling behind Lelisa and Geoffrey. But when my legs got better, I was confident that I could finish second. "

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Lelisa Desisa fell to the ground after her first NYC marathon win.

© 2018 Kevin Morris

Kamworor had no answer, although he has the consolation that his 2:06:26 for third place is the fourth fastest time in New York at all and four minutes faster than his winning time in 2017. At the post-race media conference, Kamworor looked disappointed when he wanted to admit.

"I'm happy, I've done the best I could," he said, but he'll need a little more of the Kipchoge magic to mimic his mentor.

Or maybe Kamworor was simply outsmarted by a well-drilled team. The early miles were a demonstration of communal running of the Ethiopians. At three miles they had the first four places. Kitata was usually 30 yards from the door, arms pumping, smiling happily, sometimes even interacting with Ethiopian onlookers. Training colleagues Desisa and Tamirat Tola sometimes moved side by side, usually when Kitata slowed down at drinking tables and exchanged hand signals. All are trained in Addis Ababa by Roma runners world Before the race, "everyone is well prepared."

Desisa described how carefully they completed their fast-paced race.

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"We were halfway up the pace for 2: 06-plus. Then we increase in half, especially after 35K, "said Desisa. The "we" is significant. Kamworor did not have a Kenyan company when former London champion Daniel Wanjiru returned halfway, and then the little-known Festus Talam just over 20 miles.

The rivalry between Ethiopia and Kenya in big marathons is unofficial and usually unnoticed, but when Desisa won Boston in 2013 and 2015, the way he worked with his compatriots shaped both races. This time it looked like Kitata (22) was the star, and the older Desisa (28) was there to support and protect him.

Wrong again. When Kamworor attacked for the first time at 22 miles, Desisa moved with him and Kitata floating there. Desisa took a look over the last 800 meters, as the resurgent Kitata passed by second to Kamworor and just steps away from Desisa, digging deeper and drifting two seconds in front of the band. It was the closest men's finish in New York since 2005.

"I saw him at 800. I know him. We train together. He is a young and strong guy. I `m afraid of him. But that's my dream, "said Desisa.

Desisa won $ 100,000 for the win, plus a $ 45,000 bonus for the sub-2: 06.

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