Originally created 11/05/01

Jifar, Okayo break records in marathon dedicated to Sept. 11

NEW YORK -- This New York City Marathon was unlike any other - and not just because both winners set course records.

Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia and Margaret Okayo of Kenya pulled away for comfortable victories Sunday in a red-white-and-blue affair dedicated to victims of Sept. 11.

Those colors were everywhere along the 26.2-mile course through the city's five boroughs: the arcs of balloons spanning the bridge at the start, where 50 doves were released; the lines painted on the asphalt to indicate the route; on shirts, shorts and hats worn by runners; on flags and signs held by fans.

"It was very moving. Every time I went by a firehouse, I couldn't help but tip my hat," said 1984 Olympic champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, ninth among U.S. women and 21st overall.

"The crowds were thicker than I can recall being along First Avenue and in the Park when I've run here before. I hope this will help in the healing process for the city."

The marathon adopted the motto "United We Run," and there was a view of lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center once stood, as runners crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. About 10 people ran in place of relatives killed Sept. 11, including Ralph Maerz, a 56-year-old ex-smoker whose 29-year-old son Noell died in Tower 2.

There were about 25,000 runners, roughly 5,000 fewer than normal, a disparity race organizers attributed to fears about safety.

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 route.

The champions' performances Sunday were impressive, both generated in part by midrace breakaways under clear skies and with barely a breeze. Their times perhaps were helped by the first change in the course since 1977: Organizers eliminated a hill near Central Park, making for a flatter finish.

Asked if she would have broken the course record if that hill were still part of the race, Okayo didn't hesitate: "No, no way."

Jifar ran the 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 43 seconds to become the first Ethiopian to win the race. He broke the 12-year-old mark of 2:08:01 set by Tanzania's Juma Ikangaa.

Okayo separated herself from other top women at about the 15-mile mark, shedding her black wool gloves as the temperature approached 60. She finished in 2:24:21, trimming 19 seconds off the race record set by Australia's Lisa Ondieki in 1992.

Jifar and Okayo each won $80,000 for finishing first, plus bonus money ($50,000 for him, $35,000 for her) for setting course records. It was the fourth time the men's and women's course records were broken on the same day in New York.

Jifar's first competitive race was just three years ago and he had never won a marathon. His older brother, Habte, is a world-class 10,000-meter runner and persuaded Tesfaye to try the sport.

Jifar was only seventh at the World Championships in August, but he looked like an experienced marathoner Sunday. He stayed right with the early leaders until each dropped off the pace, then separated from his final challenger, Kenya's Japhet Kosgei, with about three miles left.

Kosgei, the runner-up for the second straight year, finished in 2:09:19. Another Kenyan, Rodgers Rop, was third, 32 seconds back.

"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."

Just before entering Central Park, Jifar used a final surge that was too much for Kosgei - who had won all four marathons he had entered until last year in New York.

"It was my decision - to be first or second," Tesfaye said through an interpreter. "That was the last decision I had to make."

This course traditionally is slower than those for some other elite races. Jifar's winning time was 54 seconds off his personal best and 2:01 slower than Khalid Khannouchi's world best.

Okayo's time was her fastest by 44 seconds, although it was more than 5 1/2 minutes off the world mark Catherine Ndereba set in Chicago on Oct. 7.

Okayo was third last year in New York and won the Rock 'N' Roll Marathon in San Diego each of the past two years, breaking the course record both times.

Another Kenyan, Susan Chepkemei, was second Sunday in 2:25:12, followed by Svetlana Zakharova of Russia, who was one second behind. Defending champion Ludmila Petrova was sixth.

"I was afraid after Sept. 11 that the race would be canceled," said Zakharova, 12th last year. "I wanted to show my appreciation for the people of America by running well."

Appropriately, the NYC Marathon served as the U.S. national championship for the first time.

Scott Larson, of Boulder, Colo., was the top American man, finishing 13th overall in 2:15:26. Deena Drossin, competing in a marathon for the first time, won the U.S. women's title in 2:26:58 and was seventh overall. Her time was the fastest by an American woman in this race, 56 seconds better than Kim Jones in 1989.

"This is the first time I've seen American flags out there," said Allan Steinfeld, the race's technical director since 1983. "I've seen flags from Mexico, Ecuador, Kenya - people who are generally in the lead of the race."


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