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The Most Competitive Women's Race in NYC Marathon History

Armen Hareyan's picture

Four champions, four top-10 finishers, and three first-timers compose New York's most exciting race: NYC Marathon.

A triple-crown quest—for the ING New York City Marathon laurel wreath, the World Marathon Majors (WMM) title, and the first possibility of a three-peat since Grete Waitz’s 1980s reign—will ignite the women’s race on Sunday. “Women’s running is the best it’s ever been,” says Mary Wittenberg, ING New York City race director and NYRR president and CEO.

Two-time defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia is the only contender who may earn all three of the aforementioned titles, but many obstacles stand in her way. Prokopcuka’s highly-publicized competition include the reigning real,- Berlin Marathon champion and current WMM leader Gete Wami of Ethiopia, and ING New York City Marathon 2004 winner and marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe of Great Britian, whose surprise late entry into the race marks her return to marathoning after a two-year hiatus.

Less obvious, although certainly not less threatening, opponents include: IAAF World Championships Marathon 2007 gold medalist Catherine “the Great” Ndereba of Kenya; two-time ING New York City Marathon champion (1994-95) and five-time winner of the New York Mini 10K, Tegla Loroupe of Kenya; 2004 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon winner Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania; and 2006 Boston Marathon champion Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia; and two-time Olympian Elva Dryer of New Mexico.

Both Ndereba and Wami have had career-highlight years, and both have recently won marathons. One of the most experienced marathoners in the field, Ndereba is the only contender to have earned double crowns in three World Marathon Majors, including the IAAF World Championships (2007, 2003), the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon (2000-01), and the Boston Marathon (2000-01, 2004-05). The runner-up at this year’s NYC Half-Marathon Presented by NIKE, Ndereba is a versatile runner who adjusts well to fluctuations in terrain and climate. Ndereba is hungry for the two accomplishments she admits are missing from her career: The Olympics and a New York title. “I’m very excited to give it a fourth try,” she says. “I think I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. My body is well and back from Osaka.”

Wami, on the other hand, has earned marathon accolades—including an Ethiopian and course record 2:22:19 in her debut at the 2002 Amsterdam marathon—on fast, flat courses. She hasn’t fared as well on courses with significant elevation changes; she placed seventh at the ING New York City Marathon 2005, and failed to finish the 2005 Boston Marathon. “When I ran the [ING] New York City Marathon two years ago, I had recently given birth,” says Wami. “I was weaker then. Now I am better prepared and stronger.”

Although heavy with New York veterans, the field also consists of freshman, including Tomescu-Dita and Dryer. Tomescu-Dita has placed in the top 10 at both the Flora London Marathon and the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon from 2003-2006 (she also placed third in London this year). Her strategy for the race is to attempt to hang with the lead pack and to outkick the competition in the last 10K.

In contrast, Dryer is new to the marathon distance, having completed her first race in a respectable 12th place in Chicago last year. “I learned in Chicago that I lacked some strength to carry me through the last 10K of the marathon,” she says. “So I’ve worked to build my stamina, endurance, and muscular strength.” Her preparation for New York has entailed increased mileage and strength training in the gym with a focus on core exercises. Unfazed by the high caliber of athletes in this year’s race, Dryer optimistically says, “The [ING] New York City Marathon is an opportunity for me to get more experience, which will be huge for me next year.” She plans to compete in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Women’s Marathon in Boston next spring.

In addition to the number of enormously talented athletes, the elimination of pacemakers may pepper the contest with additional drama, as head-to-head racing is likely to ensue. “Whoever is the strongest will win anyway,” says Tomescu-Dita. “Without pacers, you can now go for a world record. The winner is the winner whether there is a pacemaker or not.”

“As soon as we dropped pacemakers, we knew Tomescu-Dita would be a factor,” says Wittenberg. “She is always tough and aggressive.”

This weekend, New York symbolizes a crossroads for many spectacular athletes. Speculation abounds: Will Radcliffe mimic the experience of Ndereba, who says she became faster after childbirth, and take the top spot? Will Wami sweep the series and take all? Will a new kid on the block cause an upset? One fact is certain at this point—it will be a race like New York has never seen before. - New York Marathon Official News Release

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