Saturday afternoon, John Kagwe of Kenya spotted a new shoe at a running expo, picked up a pair and thus violated a cardinal rule of marathoning: Never run in a pair of untried shoes.
Three times on Sunday across five boroughs, the shoelaces on Kagwe's Air Vengeances came undone. Twice, he stopped to tie them.
The third time, he made a bold and decisive move just before the 23-mile mark, the move that made him the winner of the 28th New York City Marathon.
"I had them triple-knotted," said a perplexed but happy Kagwe. He tried to forget the laces. He kept his 5-6, 115-pound piston of a body churning.
"If my brain was pulled by my shoes, I knew I wasn't going to win. Even if the shoes come off, I (decided) to keep going," he said.
Kagwe's shoe stayed on his foot and he crossed the finish line ahead of an estimated 30,500 runners in 2:08:12, the second-fastest time run in New York.
It was a remarkable performance over 26.2 miles on a miserably humid, windy and rainy day that left Kagwe only 11 seconds off the course record set in 1989 by Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania. His time was a personal best.
Kagwe's win was surprising, but more shocking was the first-place woman, Franziska Rochat-Moser of Switzerland.
The favorites, two-time champions German Silva of Mexico and Tegla Loroupe of Kenya, faded over the closing stages. Silva wound up a distant fifth among the men and Loroupe seventh among the women.
For the first 17 miles, the men's lead belonged to Kenneth Cheruyiot of Kenya, a first-time marathoner. Then the jockeying for the front began. At mile 23, Kagwe took the lead for good.
Jerod Neas of Princeton, N.J., was the top American, placing 15th in 2:19:07.
Rochat-Moser, the first Swiss to win a major marathon, was wary of Loroupe, who ran 2:22:07 at Amsterdam in April, the fourth-fastest ever.
"I thought Tegla would come back at me," said Rochat-Moser, a 31-year-old lawyer and owner of a gourmet restaurant near Lausanne. "But Tegla had no more speed left, so I just went."
She completed the course in 2:28:43.
Kim Jones, the two-time New York runner-up who finished sixth, charged that Rochat-Moser was illegally handed a bottle of water by a male competitor when she had trouble reaching it at a water stop. Rochat-Moser denied it.
"I didn't get help and I didn't see anyone else getting help," Rochat-Moser said.