Margaret Okayo surged past her closest competitors and took the lead with about 7 miles left in the New York City Marathon on Sunday. There was no doubt she would win. Only one question remained: What would the course record become?
Okayo shattered the mark she set here in 2001 by nearly two minutes Sunday, finishing in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 31 seconds, and then dropped to her knees to kiss the ground. She led a Kenyan contingent that again dominated the race. Countryman Martin Lel won a marathon for the first time, finishing in 2:10.30.
Perhaps Okayo should be nicknamed the Course Record Breaker. She also owns records in the Boston Marathon and San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.
"I didn't know I was going to break my own record, but I was just trying to do my best," Okayo said.
Reigning world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya was second (2:23:04) among the women, followed by Lornah Kiplagat (2:23:43), a native Kenyan who became a Dutch citizen this year. They also beat the course mark.
"It's such an honor," Ndereba said about the Kenyan dominance. "We are proud of us."
With the temperature in the 60s, there were 35,104 entrants for the 26.2-mile run through the city's five boroughs, including hip-hop entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Running on a bum right knee and just two months of training, he completed the marathon in 4 hours, 14 minutes, 54 seconds. He raised $2-million for children, double the amount he planned.
"Never in my life have I ever experienced anything as crazy as this," Combs said of the race.
Following Lel, defending champion Rodgers Rop of Kenya was second (2:11:11) among the men. Countryman Christopher Cheboiboch was third in 2:11:23.
Seven of the top 10 men and four of the top 10 women were from Kenya. Five of the last seven men's champions have been from that country. The top three men last year were Kenyans.
"I am very happy because for sure we are representing our country," Lel said.
The top American man was Matt Downin of New Hampshire, a former standout at the University of Wisconsin, 17th in 2:18:48. The best U.S. woman was Sylvia Mosqueda of Los Angeles, 10th at 2:33:11. Lel and Okayo each won $100,000, with Okayo getting a $60,000 bonus for finishing under 2:23.
"The Americans have to get to work," Mosqueda said. "Kenyans run well, Russian women run well. They do their homework. They run fast, they deserve it. It's really going to take Americans to have a really great day to really come and catch these Kenyans."
American women did not have a good day. Marla Runyan, fourth in New York last year and fifth in Boston this year, was among the early leaders. But she tangled with Ndereba at a water station at the 8-mile mark and fell behind, taking 20th in 2:45.12. Christy Nielsen-Crotts dropped out at the 15th mile, and Jen Rhines almost pulled out at Mile 22.
Julio Rey, attempting to become the first Spaniard to win in New York, withdrew after twisting his right ankle while reaching for water at the first station around the 4-mile mark.
In the wheelchair division, Krige Schabort of South Africa won (1:32.20) for the second straight time, breaking the record of 1:38.27 he set last year. On the women's side, American Cheri Blauwet won for the second year in a row with a record performance of 1:59.30.