Geoffrey Kamworor Wins NYC Marathon With Late Push

Jared Ward finished as first American and sixth overall.

  • Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya won the 2019 New York City Marathon in 2:08:13, followed most closely by Albert Korir of Kenya and Girma Bekele Gebre of Ethiopia.
  • Defending NYC champion Lelisa Desisa dropped out of the race at mile 7.
  • Jared Ward was the top American finisher (sixth place), followed by Abdi Abdirahman (ninth), and Connor McMillan (10th).

    Geoffrey Kamworor won today’s New York City Marathon decisively, but he sure kept us waiting for the decision. The new world record holder for the half marathon (58:01 on September 15), Kamworor cruised through 24 low-key miles at a pace that must have felt like a moderate Sunday run. He waited till the crest of a Central Park hill to reel off two miles in 4:31 each, and finally break into a sweat.

    “I was comfortable. It was a good race. At 24 miles I was feeling strong, so then I moved,” he said immediately after his finish in 2:08:13, winning by 23 seconds.

    Geoffrey Kamworwor
    Kevin Morris

    Behind the expected Kamworor win came one major surprise and one utterly massive surprise. Albert Korir, a journeyman Kenyan who has made a habit of winning or placing at second-tier marathons like Ottawa, Lake Biwa, Barcelona, and Houston, footed it with Kamworor until the final two miles, and took second in 2:08:36, half a minute slower than his best.

    No one picked Girma Bekele Gebre for third. For most of the race he was no more than Bib Number 443, an impertinent sub-elite without even his name on his bib. Always hovering near the front, he looked part of the Ethiopian team effort, perhaps a domestique in cycling terms. At one point he seemed to pick up water to offer it to fellow Ethiopians.

    But as the pack thinned, and then came down to four, Gebre was still there. He astonished us all by gutting out third place on the podium ahead of two more prestigious and very much faster Ethiopians, Tamirat Tola and Shura Kitata.

    Gebre trains in Addis Ababa, speaks no English, and has no agent or shoe contract. But he has friends in New York, and has raced here often enough to be known among the West Side Runners. Today he came back to the city to slash an astonishing five minutes from his PR with his 2:08:38.

    “I went home and trained under my coach at altitude,” was his explanation.

    Kamworor is a major star, and also an enigma. He has world-class performances (and world medals) in track, road, and cross-country. Yet in the marathon he did grunt work for several years as a pacemaker. His first win was at New York in 2017 in 2:10:53, but he then dropped to a disappointed third last year. For such a class runner, he has been sitting since 2012 on an unremarkable marathon PR of 2:06:12. That’s five minutes behind the 2:01:30 that all the charts calculate as the marathon equivalent to his epic world record half. He seemed untroubled about that discrepancy after winning today.

    “I was feeling okay. It was no problem for me,” he assured the media, dodging comment about the time.

    Kamworor’s brilliance up to the half marathon is indisputable, but at the full distance he has yet to win at anything but a modest pace. He was noncommittal about his future plans, saying that he will probably go for his fourth world half marathon title in 2020, but that his choice for the Olympics, between 10,000 meters and marathon, “must be planned.”

    Perhaps more significant, for a man regarded as heir apparent to his friend and mentor Eliud Kipchoge, Kamworor has yet to develop the dominating presence of Kipchoge, who in every race is somehow in command whatever the early positioning.

    Kamworwor and Kipchoge
    Kamworwor celebrates with training partner and mentor Eliud Kipchoge.
    Kevin Morris

    There was no doubting their shared delight as the two friends jubilantly hugged after the finish.

    “I knew my training partner and mentor Eliud was waiting at the finish. I was concentrating because I did not want to disappoint him,” Kamworor said with real warmth. Both belong to the Kaptagat training group of former Kenyan Olympic steeplechase medalist Patrick Sang.

    At New York last year, Ethiopian men attained rare dominance. Lelisa Desisa’s tactical astuteness gave only their third individual victory in the race’s history (in contrast with Kenya’s 14). For a while today they looked ready to repeat, with three runners in front from coach Haji Adilo’s training group outside Addis Ababa. But the wooden-legged stride of new world champion Desisa showed that even a great runner can’t repeat top marathons only four weeks apart. By the eighth mile the defending champion hobbled stiffly out of the race.

    Shura Kitata, second last year, was Ethiopia’s best hope. Coach Adilo this week pronounced that he was in better shape than last year, and predicted a course record. Starting as co-favorite with Kamworor, Kitata did most of the early leading. At the gun, he shot away up the Verrazano Narrows bridge like a dog after a rabbit, and his fast solo mile of 5:02 was the most exciting thing that happened for the next nearly two hours.

    Kitata’s lead fluctuated, but in Brooklyn at 11 miles, he had a sufficient gap for a white-bearded Hasidic elder to have time to duck under the police tape and stroll across the road behind him. On 2:09 pace, none of the main contenders was hurrying.

    The cautious pace and cool temperature were ideal for those like Brett Robinson of Australia or Yoshiki Takenouchi of Japan, both aiming for sub-2:10 and credit toward Olympic selection. They didn’t make it. American Jared Ward was happy, using his sixth place in 2:10:45 to consolidate the level he reached with his 2:09:25 at Boston in April this year, and confirm his position as one of the favorites for the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 29.

    And for American supermaster Abdi Abdirahman, 42, the pace was custom-made for him to finish ninth in 2:11:34 and break Bernard Lagat’s U.S. masters record. In the perfect conditions, it was the only record of the day.

    Kamworor won $100,000 for his victory and another $10,000 for breaking 2:10. Ward netted $25,000 for the top American spot, while Abdirahman won $15,000 for being second American and $3,000 as the first masters finisher.

    Hailey Middlebrook contributed to this report.

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