Okayo sets NYC mark

Kenyan breaks the record she set in 2001.
Monday, November 3, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:27 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

NEW YORK — Margaret Okayo surged past her closest competitors and took the lead with about seven miles to go in the New York City Marathon.

There was no doubt she would win. Only one question remained: What would the new course record become?

Okayo shattered the mark she set in 2001 by nearly two minutes Sunday, finishing in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 31 seconds, and then dropped to her knees to kiss the ground. She led a Kenyan contingent that again dominated the race. Countryman Martin Lel won his first marathon ever, finishing in 2:10.30.

Perhaps Okayo should be nicknamed The Course Record Breaker. She also holds record times in the Boston Marathon and the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

“I didn’t know I was going to break my own record, but I was just trying to do my best,” Okayo said.

Reigning world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya was second among the women in 2:23:04. Lornah Kiplagat, a native Kenyan who became a Dutch citizen this year, was next in 2:23:43. They also beat the previous course record.

“It’s such an honor,” Ndereba said about the Kenyan dominance. “We are very proud of us. We feel we’ve made our flag fly high.”

With 35,104 entrants for the 26.2-mile run through the city’s five boroughs — including producer-rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs — Okayo beat a strong field. And she did it on a warm day, with the temperature in the 60s.

Following Lel, defending champion Rodgers Rop of Kenya was second among the men in 2:11:11 and countryman Christopher Cheboiboch was third in 2:11:23.

Seven of the top 10 men and four of the top 10 women were from Kenya. Five of the past seven men’s champions have been from Kenya. The top three men last year were from Kenya.

was Matt Downin of Bloody Brook, N.H., in 17th in 2:18:48. The best U.S. woman was Sylvia Mosqueda of Los Angeles in 10th place at 2:33:11.

Lel and Okayo each won $100,000, with Okayo getting a $60,000 bonus for finishing under 2:23.

“The Americans have to get to work,” Mosqueda said. “Kenyans run well, Russian women run well. They do their homework. They run fast, they deserve it. It’s really going to take Americans to have a really great day to really come and catch these Kenyans.”

At the halfway mark, the women were on pace to set the record after covering 13.1 miles in 1:12:04.

Okayo, Kiplagat and Petrova pulled away from the front-runners at the 17-mile mark. Ndereba started to make a move around mile 18. With Kiplagat opening a small lead over Okayo, Ndereba passed Petrova for third.

Okayo turned it on, though. She overtook Kiplagat for first and cruised to victory. Last year, she finished fifth after having back problems and was taken to the hospital after the race.

It was not a good day for the American women. Marla Runyan, who finished fourth in New York last year and fifth in Boston this year, was among the early leaders. But she tangled with Ndereba at a water station at the 8-mile mark and fell behind.

Last year, Lel started focusing on his running after opening up a small grocery store in Kenya to help support his family. At the urging of his family, Lel gave control of the store to a cousin and started more serious training.

In the wheelchair division, Krige Schabort of South Africa won his second straight NYC Marathon in 1:32.20, breaking his old mark of 1:38.27 set last year. On the women’s side, American Cheri Blauwet also won for the second straight year in a course record 1:59.30.

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