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Mwafrika leads compatriots in a show of resilience in NY

By | November 3rd 2009

By Omulo Okoth in New York, USA

A surprise second finisher. A disappointed favourite. A burnt out rookie and two hospitalised athletes summed up Kenyans’ performances at the 40th ING New York City Marathon here on Sunday.

At the end of the 42km race, which took the 43,741 starters through the boroughs from Staten Island to Brooklyn to Queens, Bronx and the Central Park, Ahmed Omar Cheruiyot ‘Mwafrika’ was all smiles, having finished second to Eritrean-born naturalised American, Meb Keflezighi.

The winner timed 2:09:15 as ‘Mwafrika’ followed in 2:09:56 and Jaouad Gharib third in 2:10:25. Ryan Hall, a native American, romped home fourth (2:10:36) to a thunderous applause from the huge crowd inside the Central park and those who monitored the race from huge screens along the streets in New York, which brought to sharp contrast the celebration that met the winner.

James Kwambai, who was highly tipped to win the race, faded out after the 35th Km and was rushed to hospital after suffering serious dehydration. Patrick Makau also dropped out mid-way the race after briefly sprinting to the front, even threatening to surprise the field. Jackson Kotut Kipkoech, at 11th, was the only other Kenyan to finish. He timed 2:15:10.

Boston Marathon women’s title holder Salina Kosgei, was taken to hospital on a stretcher with a swollen left knee, an injury which followed a collision with Japanese Yuri Kano after 5km. Kosgei did not recover thereafter, finishing fifth, in 2:31:53 in a race won by 37-year-old Ethiopian former twice Olympics 10,000m champion, Derartu Tulu.

"I thought I was going to pull out midway, but we Kenyans fight to the last minute. That is the spirit that carried me through. The knee could hardly move and I really forced it," said the former Paris Marathon and 2002 Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion. Her Italian manager Gianni Demadonna was an angry man as he mobilised medical personnel to help Kosgei.

‘Mwafrika’ was ecstatic, especially after bagging $25,000 (Sh1.875m) time bonus on top of the $65,000 (Sh4.875m) runner-up prize money and 15 points to boot for the World Marathon Majors.

"I wasn’t expecting to perform this well. Although I was aiming at the top three, second position was a bit of a surprise for me, having been invited only two weeks ago and not having enough preparation," ‘Mwafrika’, better known as Robert Cheruiyot, told FeverPitch.

He finished fifth at the World Championships in Berlin in August, rested for three weeks before resuming sporadic training.

"I did 35km twice in Eldoret and a 30km once in Nairobi. I was expecting Kwambai to take the race, but when I did not see him after 35km, I just went," said Mwafrika.

While the women’s race quickly crystallised to a competition of six women, Paula Radcliffe, Tulu, Kosgei, Kano, Christelle Daunay and Ludmila Petrova, the men was a crowded field, 13 top athletes battling through the streets of New York for almost 30 kilometres.

Kosgei fell behind as the five rivals opened the lead with Radcliffe looking more likely to retain the title. As she used to beat her peers Sally Barsosio and Helen Kimaiyo on the track, it was vintage Tulu, waiting until the final 100m to sprint to finish.

"I knew I would be competitive, but certainly not to win," she said through translator.

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