Kenyans Stephen Sambu and Joyce Chepkirui to Highlight Professional Athlete Field of Olympic Hopefuls at 2016 United Airlines NYC Half on Sunday, March 20

February 24, 2016 at 5:00am

New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games hero Zane Robertson and Ireland’s two-time Olympian Fionnuala McCormack will make United Airlines NYC Half debuts

Race will air live in the New York area on WABC-TV, Channel 7 and will be streamed on ABC7NY.com, Watch ABC, WatchESPN, and internationally via a variety of global broadcast partners

New York, February 24, 2016— Kenyans Stephen Sambu and Joyce Chepkirui will headline a stacked field of Olympic hopefuls at the 2016 United Airlines NYC Half on Sunday, March 20 – a lineup that also includes New Zealand’s Zane Robertson and Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack, it was announced today by Peter Ciaccia, president of events for New York Road Runners and race director of the TCS New York City Marathon. These accomplished athletes will join previously announced American professionals Ben True and Molly Huddle in the United Airlines NYC Half, which will air live in the New York area on WABC-TV, Channel 7, and will be streamed internationally via a variety of global broadcast partners.  

“We are excited to have such an impressive group of Olympic hopefuls, including Stephen, Joyce, Zane, Fionnuala, Ben and Molly racing each other through Times Square and the streets of Manhattan in the 2016 United Airlines NYC Half,” said Ciaccia. “Three of the top four men’s finishers and three of the top four women’s finishers return from last year for the 13.1-mile run from Central Park to Battery Park, which will provide New Yorkers with a street-side preview of many of the athletes they’ll see competing this summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.”

Sambu, 27, of Kenya, nearly claimed his first United Airlines NYC Half title last March, losing in a finish-line lean to fellow Kenyan Leonard Korir. In his NYC Half debut in 2013, the Olympic hopeful lowered his half-marathon personal best by nearly 90 seconds before chopping off nearly another minute from that time with a 1:00:41 at the B.A.A. Half-Marathon that October. Sambu has made the podium in five of the six NYRR events he has run, nearly defending his UAE Healthy Kidney 10K title in Central Park last year when he took second in a close finish with True. Sambu, a former seven-time NCAA All-American at the University of Arizona, still resides in Tucson.

“A favorite race in a favorite city,” Sambu said. “I have finished third. I have finished second. It's my time, perhaps in 2016. I'd like nothing better.”

Chepkirui, 26, of Kenya, owns the fastest time in the United Airlines NYC Half field, having run a personal-best 1:06:19 at the Prague Half-Marathon in 2014, which made her the fifth-fastest performer in history. She raced in New York City twice last season, finishing second to Huddle at the United Airlines NYC Half in 1:08:42 and defending her UAE Healthy Kidney 10K title in Central Park with a 32:33 victory. In the fall, she ran a six-minute marathon best to win the TCS Amsterdam Marathon, breaking the tape in 2:24:11. She will attempt to qualify for her second Kenyan Olympic team this year after failing to finish the 10,000-meter final in her Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games.

“It is always a great opportunity to compete in New York City,” Chepkirui said. “I love coming here and my goal is to win the United Airlines NYC Half and add this title to two wins over the 10K distance in Central Park in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. Out of marathon training for the Boston Marathon, I was second in 2015 United Airlines NYC Half after racing Molly Huddle, and I am looking forward to another race against her, as she is very good competitor and a very strong athlete.”

Robertson, 26, of New Zealand, has been residing in Chepkirui’s hometown of Iten, Kenya, since he and his twin brother, Jake, moved there after graduating high school in 2007 in order to train among some of the world’s best runners. In 2014, he brought New Zealand its first 5000-meter Commonwealth Games medal since 1962, capturing the bronze. Although he narrowly missed a win in his 13.1-mile debut at the Kagawa Marugame Half-Marathon in early 2015, taking second in a photo-finish, he came away with a new national record of 59:47. His time also set an Oceanian record, and made him the first non-African to break 60 minutes since Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil in 2007.

McCormack, 31, of Ireland, is making her United Airlines NYC Half debut in a year in which she could feature in her third Olympics. At the 2008 Beijing Games, she represented Ireland in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and four years later in London, she doubled in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. In October, she met qualifying standard for this summer’s Games in Rio, running 2:33:15 for 13th place at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. She’s well-known for her cross-country abilities, having won five medals at the European Cross Country Championships, including back-to-back individual titles in 2011 and 2012.

More than 20,000 runners of all ages and abilities will be running the city streets alongside an inspiring group of world-class athletes, making for a great first event in our Five-Borough Series of races this year,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of New York Road Runners.

Additional Top Men’s Professional Runner Backgrounds and Notable Performances

·         Juan Luis Barrios, 31, of Mexico, is a two-time 5000-meter Olympian. He finished seventh at the 2008 Beijing Games and eighth at the 2012 London Games. The two-time defending Pan American Games 5000-meter champion finished third at the 2015 United Airlines NYC Half, moving up another spot in the standings after placing fourth in 2014 and fifth in 2013. Most recently, he placed 12th at the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon.

·         Wilson Chebet, 30, of Kenya, won three consecutive TCS Amsterdam Marathon titles from 2011-2013, each time finishing under 2:06, including an event-record 2:05:36 in 2013. Chebet also set his half-marathon best in the Netherlands, running 59:15 in Rotterdam in 2009, and returned to Rotterdam two years later to run a marathon best of 2:05:27. In 2014, he chased Boston Marathon race leader Meb Keflezighi down the stretch, but ultimately finished second in 2:08:48. He returned to place third in 2015, adding to his fifth-place finish from 2012.

·         Lusapho April, 33, of South Africa was third in the 2013 New York City Marathon, the highest finish ever recorded by a South African runner since Hendrick Ramaala’s third place in 2007. He was 15th at the 2014 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Copenhagen with a half-marathon personal best of 1:01:16. He competed in the 2012 London Olympic Marathon, but fell midway through the race, finishing 43rd.

·         Diego Estrada, 26, of Salinas, CA, won the USA Half Marathon Championships last year in Houston, taking the tape in 1:00:51, the fastest time by an American in nearly five years. He did not finish in his marathon debut earlier this month at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles.

·         Sam Chelanga, 31, of Tuscon, AZ, is the 2015 national champion over 10 miles and 12K, and he will make his third appearance in the NYC Half, having finished fifth in 2012 and sixth in 2013. The Kenyan-born runner won four NCAA titles with Liberty University, became a U.S. citizen last August, and currently trains with Sambu under University of Arizona coach James Li.

Additional Top Women’s Professional Runner Backgrounds and Notable Performances

·         Caroline Rotich, 31, of Kenya, is seeking her third NYC Half title after wins in 2011 and 2013. She ran a personal-best 1:08:51 for her first victory, setting an event record at the time. Two months after her 2013 NYC Half victory, she won the Prague Marathon in 2:27:00. She engaged in a back-and-forth sprint duel with Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba over the final quarter-mile of last year’s Boston Marathon, which she prevailed to win in 2:24:55. She lives and trains in Santa Fe, NM.

·         Neely Spence Gracey, 25, of Boulder, CO, will be making her United Airlines NYC Half debut, having just made her half-marathon debut a year ago with a 1:12:38 in Tampa, FL. By the year’s end, she had lowered her time to 1:09:59, making her the 10th American woman in history to break 70 minutes. She will make her 26.2 debut at the Boston Marathon in April. Her decision to run Boston builds upon a lifelong connection. On the day she was born, her father, 1992 U.S. Olympian Steve Spence, ran a 2:16:40—his personal best at the time—for 19th place overall.

·         Diane Nukuri, 31, of Burundi, fled her country’s civil war at age 16, finding shelter with a relative in Pickering, Ontario, Canada. While she learned English and adapted to her new home, she was recruited to run for the University of Iowa, where she earned three NCAA All-American honors. After representing Burundi in the 5000 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics at age 15, she moved up to the marathon for the 2012 London Games, where she also served as her country’s flag bearer. She competed over 26.2 miles in London again in 2015, lowering her national record to 2:27:50, a personal-best time by one minute and 45 seconds.

·         Buzunesh Deba, 28, of Ethiopia, lives and trains in the Bronx, and she finished second at the 2014 United Airlines NYC Half. She was the runner-up at both the 2011 and 2013 editions of the New York City Marathon, having lost by four seconds in 2011 after going neck-and-neck with friend and compatriot Firehiwot Dado. Her second-place 2014 Boston Marathon time of 2:19:59 made her the fastest female New York resident in history by more than 10 minutes. After that second-place performance in Boston, she returned last year to record a third-place, 2:25:09 finish.

·         Beverly Ramos, 28, of Puerto Rico, competed for her country at the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Championships, as well as the 2012 London Olympics, and she will be making her United Airlines NYC Half debut. Her 2:41:56 at last year’s TCS New York City Marathon was faster than the previous Puerto Rican record by over three minutes and qualified her for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The two-time NCAA All-American at Kansas State University holds national outdoor records in the 1500, 3000, 5000, and 10,000 meters.

Top Professional Men

Name

Personal Best Half-Marathon

Twitter Handle

Wilson Chebet, KEN

59:15

@WilsonChebet

Zane Robertson, NZL

59:47

@runninelvis

Stephen Sambu, KEN

1:00:41

@Sksambu

Juan Luis Barrios, MEX

1:00:46

@juanlbarrios

Diego Estrada,

1:00:51

@estradadiego

Sam Chelanga

1:01:04

@SamChelanga

Lusapho April, RSA

1:01:16

@LusaphoApril

Ben True, USA

Debut

@bentrue

Top Professional Women

Name

Personal Best Half-Marathon

Twitter Handle

Joyce Chepkirui, KEN

1:06:19

--

Molly Huddle, USA

1:08:31

@MollyHuddle

Caroline Rotich, KEN

1:08:52

@ccrotich

Buzunesh Deba, ETH

1:08:59

@DebaBuzunesh

Diane Nukuri, BDI

1:09:12

@dnjbdi

Neely Spence Gracey, USA

1:09:59

@neelyspenceG

Fionnuala McCormack, IRL

1:11:33

--

Beverly Ramos, PUR

1:12:48

@beverly_ramos

The 2016 United Airlines NYC Half, set for Sunday, March 20, will feature 20,000 runners in the 13.1-mile race. For the second consecutive year, the free NYRR Times Square Kids’ Run at the United Airlines NYC Half will feature 1,000 students, many from NYRR’s free youth running programs, in a 1500-meter out-and-back race along Seventh Avenue and through Times Square. The race takes place simultaneously alongside the United Airlines NYC Half route.

The 2015 United Airlines NYC Half had 19,454 finishers from nearly all 50 states and at least 67 countries. For the first time ever, the NYRR Times Square Kids’ Run at the United Airlines NYC Half gave hundreds of kids the opportunity to participate in a race of their own.

For media interested in covering the 2016 United Airlines NYC Half, please email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@nyrr.org and specify which race area you’d like to cover the event from – start, finish or media center.

About the United Airlines NYC Half

Founded in 1958, New York Road Runners has grown from a local running club to the world’s premier community running organization, whose mission is to help and inspire people through running. The United Airlines NYC Half is NYRR’s signature half-marathon, and the opening event of the NYRR Five-Borough Series. The race features a talented American and international professional athlete field, competitive, recreational, and charity runners, some 1,500 volunteers and thousands of spectators. The event offers the quintessential New York experience—a 13.1-mile tour of the Big Apple like no other—from the rolling hills of Central Park, up to Harlem, down through Times Square, along the Hudson River waterfront, to a finish in lower Manhattan. United Airlines, New York area's largest airline, is the title sponsor of the United Airlines NYC Half and an NYRR foundation partner. To learn more, visit unitedairlinesnychalf.nyrr.org.