NEW YORK — Gebre Gebremariam saw his country's greatest marathoner pull up in pain on the Queensboro Bridge, at the 16th mile. He urged Haile Gebrselassie to keep going, but what the world-record holder felt in his right knee told him his career was over, and it was time for a new Ethiopian star.
"I can't, Gebre. You have to move," the 37-year-old told Gebremariam as the leaders of the New York City Marathon ran on. "You have to reach them."
Gebremariam, 26, who started the race certain he couldn't win it, soon became a believer. He pulled away from Kenya's Emmanuel Mutai in the 24th mile to win in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 14 seconds, becoming the first man to win New York in his marathon debut since Alberto Salazar in 1980.
Kenya's Edna Kiplagat was another surprise winner, while Shalane Flanagan, making a marathon debut of her own, became the first American woman in two decades to finish second.
Gebrselassie, the only runner on earth to finish a marathon in less than 2 hours, 4 minutes, announced his retirement after dropping out of the race. Not even Gebremariam, the 2009 cross-country world champion, expected that he would be the next Ethiopian winner.
"Even I told my wife, 'I can finish this race, but I can't win,' " Gebremariam said. "When I saw in 19 or 17 miles, you know, I can win. I saw the pace and listen to my body too, so I can win."
His wife, Werknesh Kidane, an elite distance runner herself, also planned to make her marathon debut in New York. But she had to pull out because of injury and watched back in Ethiopia with their two young sons.
"So maybe next year she'll come and she'll win, too," Gebremariam said with a smile.
Another Kenyan, Moses Kigen Kipkosgei, was third. Defending champion Meb Keflezighi of the United States finished sixth.
Kiplagat, 31, who like Gebremariam took home $130,000, won her first major marathon title in 2:28:20.
"When we were in the 24th mile, I tried to put more effort," she said. "I found myself pulling away from the field, so I was excited when I reached 25 miles because that's when I found I was ahead of the other ladies.
"When I crossed the finish line, I was so happy."
Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters, was 20 seconds back. Kim Jones in 1990 was the last American woman to finish in the top two. With the event doubling as the U.S. women's championship, Flanagan won a $40,000 bonus.
More than 45,000 runners, including Chilean miner Edison Peña (story, 5A), started the 41st edition of the race through the five boroughs.
PASSING FOR CHARITY: Former New York Giants receiver Amani Toomer spent his career dodging defenders. He took advantage of those sidestepping skills in this race, earning $1 from Timex for every runner he passed.
Toomer, who started in last place, said he passed about 20,000 runners. The proceeds will go to the New York Road Runners youth programs.
Toomer is believed to be the first former NFL player to enter the race since former Steelers great Lynn Swann finished it in 1993. Toomer's goal was to complete the race under 4 hours, and he crossed the line in 4:13. (Swann finished in 4:26:21.)
RUN FOR BROTHER: Maddy Crippen, 30, ran with her late brother in mind. Fran Crippen died at a swimming World Cup race in the United Arab Emirates last month. Maddy is a former Olympic swimmer who signed up for the marathon at the urging of her brother. Fran ran it the last two years. Maddy finished in 4:06:19 and raised money for the USO in running her second marathon.
celebrities: Al Roker and Meredith Vieira were among 20,000 first-time runners in the race. Vieira earned bragging rights over her fellow Today show TV star in 5:59; Roker finished in 7:09:44. Chef Bobby Flay crossed in 4:01:37, two days after his horse, More Than Real, won the Juvenile Fillies Turf race in the Breeders' Cup in Louisville, Ky. Model Veronica Webb crossed in 4:59:12.