Kipyego leads pack in closest finish in Grandma's Marathon historyVictory belonged to Christopher Kipyego this morning, except for one thing. He hadn’t crossed the finish line of the 35th Grandma’s Marathon.
By: By Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune , Superior Telegram
Victory belonged to Christopher Kipyego this morning, except for one thing. He hadn’t crossed the finish line of the 35th Grandma’s Marathon.
He stopped at the front of the electronic timing matt on Canal Park drive, about 60 feet short of the actual finish. The 37-year-old Kenyan was ready to celebrate when he saw race officials urging him to continue.
And when he did finish, the outcome was still uncertain. He was matched stride-for-stride by Ethiopia’s Teklu Deneke in a photo finish, a Grandma’s Marathon first.
Both were officially listed in 2 hours, 12 minutes, 17 seconds for 26.2 miles. Kipyego, runner-up last year, ran exactly 2:12:16.36 and Deneke was 2:12:16.56.
Two-tenths of a second.
“If I hadn’t miscalculated the finish line, I wouldn’t have had to worry about winning. When it was over, I looked over at (Deneke) and I didn’t know. (Executive race director Scott Keenan) came over and told me I had won,” said Kipyego. “Sometimes things happen like that in competition and if you don’t win, you have to accept it.”
The closest finish in race history, on one of the coolest days in race history, produced the most 2:12 finishes in race history. Four runners came in under 2:13. It was 54 degrees with a northeast tailwind of 13 mph near Two Harbors for the 7:30 a.m. start. It was 48 degrees by 9:30 a.m. as the leaders passed through downtown. There were 8,319 registered runners and 6,333 timed finishers, the most in three years.
“The weather was absolutely perfect. I don’t know how you could’ve made it any more perfect,” said Matt Gabrielson of St. Louis Park, Minn., who placed sixth in 2:13:28, setting a personal best by four minutes.
A few degrees warmer would’ve been nice, said East African entrants, who finished 1-through-4. Early leader Charles Munyeki of Kenya wore a stocking cap and long-sleeve shirt. Runners could see their breath along Lake Superior. However, they were spared the rain, which poured down and then stopped about 30 minutes before the race.
A lead group of 10 to 12 shared the workload, going through the half-marathon in 1:05:31. And while the weather was nearly identical to 1981, when Dick Beardsley set the still-standing course record of 2:09:37, no one pushed the pace through 17 miles. American Jeff Eggleston changed that.
He was patient early, then made a charge that startled the front-runners as they passed Brighton Beach at mile No. 18. He led for two miles.
“I knew I was going to catch them and I absolutely believed I could win,” said Eggleston, 26, who trains Flagstaff, Ariz., and won the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2:17:09 in the rain May 15. “We have a whole group of up-and-coming American runners, and we’re showing that we’re bridging the gap (with the East Africans).”
Eggleston forced a faster pace, yet by 21 miles he slipped to the back of a seven-runner group. Kenyan Sammy Malakwen took the pacesetter role, going 4:57 and 4:52 per mile through 23 miles. The group was four. By 24 miles it was three, and at 25 miles, as the course turns left off Superior Street onto Fifth Avenue West, just two remained.
They traded surges on the way around the DECC and down the straightaway.
“I was thinking I was going to win; every race you enter you want to think you’re going to win. I was pushing, trying to get ahead during that last mile, but I was going to be happy with whatever happened,” said runner-up Deneke, who didn’t finish the 2010 Grandma’s Marathon, dropping at 23 miles because of hamstring problems.
Last year, Kipyego was in contention until the final mile until Philemon Kemboi took over for a victory in 2:15:44. Kipyego was 16 seconds back in 2:16:00. On Saturday, Kipyego set a personal best by 39 seconds and earned $11,500 ($10,000 for the win and $1,500 for going under 2:13). Deneke earned $9,000 and Malakwen $6,500.
It was the first United States marathon victory for Kipyego, married and the father of a 3-year-old son. He led the fastest mass finish in race history, four runners 35 seconds apart under 2:13, bettering the 1999 Grandma’s Marathon, when four runners were 19 seconds apart under 2:14. That year marked the previous closest finish as Kenya’s Andrew Musuva edged Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Bekele by four seconds.
Fifteen of the last 16 Grandma’s Marathon men’s titles have been won by foreign-born winners, 11 from Kenya.
“It was too cold for me at the start and that’s why I ran in a pack behind some of the other runners. It took me until about 20 miles, until about 90 minutes into the race, before my body felt warmed up enough to respond to a faster pace,” said Kipyego, who is 5-foot-6 and 123 pounds, and lives in Eldoret, Kenya, but has been training recently in Mexico. “When (Eggleston) came up, I adjusted to his speed.
“At the end I was trying to push and (Deneke) was right there. But I’m very good at sprinting; I’m very good at the finish line.”
His left shoulder broke the finishing tape and his left foot hit the timing mat first, for a victory by one step.