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Paula
LEL, RADCLIFFE PREVAIL IN CLOSE ING NEW YORK CITY MARATHON RACES

by Parker Morse.
(c)2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK -- Kenyan Martin Lel hung on through a dramatic ING New York City Marathon to defeat Moroccan Abderrahim Goumri in the final half-mile, 2:09:04 to 2:09:16. It was Lel's second victory in New York. Briton Paula Radcliffe also earned her second New York City victory by fighting off a late-race challenge from longtime rival Gete Wami of Ethiopia, winning in 2:23:09 to Wami's 2:23:32.

RADCLIFFE AGGRESSIVE FROM THE GUN

Radcliffe blasted off from the front of the women's professional race from the very start, 35 minutes before the men's professional and mass start. Radcliffe pushed the pace over the race's high point, the Verazano Narrows Bridge, in the first miles, and within four miles had broken clear of all other women but Wami.

"I didn't come in with planned splits or paces I wanted to hit," explained Radcliffe. "I just wanted to run how I felt. When I was warming up, and in the first few miles, I felt really good. Nobody seemed to want to go with me."

Baby
Isla

Wami, on the other hand, was racing with only five weeks' recovery after winning the real,-Berlin Marathon on September 30. Wami needed only to stay within one place of the NYCM defending champion, Jelena Prokopcuka, to ensure victory in the 2006-2007 World Marathon Majors series and earn half of that $1 million prize. Chasing after Radcliffe might seem to be the antithesis of a conservative marathon plan, but Wami and Radcliffe have been rivals since 1992, when Radcliffe won the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in Boston.

True to form, Wami dogged Radcliffe's footsteps throughout the race, showing no sign of post-Berlin fatigue as the pair's lead over a chase pack consisting of Prokopcuka, 2007 Boston winner Lidiya Grigoryeva, and 2007 World champion Catherine Ndereba telescoped to an almost-ridiculous four minutes.

While Radcliffe began to show fatigue when the pair looped through the Bronx, it was miles later that Wami became the first to fade, giving up ten meters on the tall Briton before they entered Central Park at 90th street. Wami battled back, returning to Radcliffe's heels by the 24-mile mark, and then launched a move of her own, taking the lead for the first time on Central Park South, just past the half-mile remaining sign.

Wami's time in the lead was brief, as her move galvanized Radcliffe.

"I'm not going to let anyone beat me," Radcliffe said afterward. "I'm going to give it everything I have, right to the line." Radcliffe fought back immediately, retook the lead, and then left the demoralized Wami in her wake, sprinting to the finish as though she still had someone to chase.

Radcliffe won the NYCM in her only other appearance at the race, in 2004. This marked Radcliffe's return to marathoning after a two-year break around the birth of her daughter, Isla, in January of this year.

Radcliffe's only previous race in 2007 was the Great North Run half-marathon, where she finished second to Kara Goucher in 1:07:53.

Prokopcuka took third in 2:26:13, but that performance was not enough to keep Wami from winning the Majors, with 80 points to Prokopcuka's 65. Grigoryeva took fifth in 2:28:37, with Ndereba sixth in 2:29:08.

LEL BIDES HIS TIME

Martin Lel took the honors in the men's race, but it was Hendrick Ramaala who made the race. For the first time in recent history, the NYCM eschewed dedicated pacemakers, and while Radcliffe took charge of the women's race, the men's pack spent several early leaders waiting for a leader to emerge. That leader turned out to be Ramaala.

"At 10-K, I said, enough is enough," Ramaala recounted after the race.

"We need to start running. Most of the other guys didn't want to take it, but I don't like to start slow and get stuck in a slow pace."

Ramaala made a series of surges that thinned the pack down, but those early surges paled next to the moves which arrived on First Avenue.

As the men turned off the 59th Street Bridge and started north on their first Manhattan leg, Ramaala kicked off a battle of surges between himself, Lel, James Kwambai, and Elias Kemboi. Goumri, patiently staying back, covered every move, but Ramaala and Lel's surges could only have been more aggressive had the pair picked up baseball bats and started swinging at each other.

Ramaala tried to excuse himself by blaming the energy of First Avenue, but he may also have wished to close the door on Lel early due to lack of speed on his own part. In the end, it was Ramaala who broke, leaving only Goumri to challenge Lel.

At that point, the race became a near replay of April's London Marathon, where Lel and Goumri also dueled into the closing miles. "I lost the same way in London," sighed a rueful Goumri after the race.

Lel launched his final attack as the pair returned to Central Park from Columbus Circle --not far from where Radcliffe finally put Wami away-- and sprinted to the finish so dramatically that Goumri visibly receded into the background of the television picture.

Lel's return to the top of the NYCM podium came in his first appearance in the race since his first victory, in 2003; he has yet to lose in New York. In the intervening four years, Lel won twice in London; Goumri, meanwhile, was a relative novice, running his debut in London and then dropping out of the Osaka World Championships marathon this August. Goumri noted that his preparation for the NYCM was hampered by his observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which requires sunrise-to-sunset fasting among other training complications.

Ramaala managed third for his troubles, running 2:11:25. 2004 Olympic gold medalist Stefano Baldini ran a strong fourth in 2:11:58.

   


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