This is Buzunesh Deba’s city. She lives in the Bronx. She trains in Central Park. She takes the subway to the track.
Her nationality in race results may read ETH, but the 26-year-old lives and breathes NYC.
So when Deba and her training partner, Tigist Tufa, bolted from the starting line to take an early and substantial lead in today’s ING New York City Marathon, even into a brisk headwind, it could have been the New Yorker in them coming out: bold, dramatic, maybe a bit impetuous.
Deba insists that she was merely running at her planned pace. At mile 15, with Deba and Tufa ahead of the pack by 3:24, it looked as if that pace might carry the day.
That’s when Priscah Jeptoo saw the light. To win the 2012−2013 World Marathon Majors title, she would have to win this race. And to win this race, she was going to have to make a move. Now.
“I realized that I did a mistake to leave the two ladies who was leading,” said Jeptoo, the 29-year-old 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2013 Virgin London Marathon winner. “I realized that three minutes is almost one kilometer. So I started to push the pace. I was having confidence that I will make it.”
And that is how the Queensboro Bridge became the launching pad for Jeptoo’s come-from-behind victory, in which she made up that 3:24 deficit in less than eight miles, rocketing past first Tufa and then Deba just before mile 24 to win the 43rd running of the ING New York City Marathon in 2:25:07.
With the victory came the World Marathon Majors jackpot of $500,000 when she vaulted past 2013 Bank of American Chicago Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo for the title, based on a point system for placing in the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York marathons. The Tokyo Marathon will be added to the 2013−2014 cycle.
Deba, fighting stomach cramps, hung on for second, in 2:25:56, with 2005 and 2006 ING New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia third in 2:27:47.
The podium finish for the 37-year-old Prokupcuka, who has been out of competition for much of the past four years for pregnancy and childbirth, was a surprise. It also served as some compensation for the futility of her 2012 post-Superstorm Sandy journey here; she was standing in line for passport control at the airport after arriving on Friday when she learned from TV that the race had been cancelled.
It was not the only irony on display yesterday. In 2011 in New York, Deba was the hunter, as Mary Keitany went out at world-record pace only to be reeled in by the Ethiopian duo of Deba and eventual winner Firehiwot Dado, with Deba finishing second. Yesterday, she was the hunted.
The hunter was well-armed. Jeptoo’s personal best of 2:20:14 is more than three minutes faster than Deba’s 2:23:19, and she won a recent half-marathon, the Bupa Great North Run in England, in 1:05:45 over Olympic track gold medalists Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar. So when she poured on a 5:04 in mile 17 and a 5:05 in mile 18 to start making up ground, it should have been no shock.
“I was very, very happy when I saw that I reached to the finish line when I am a winner,” said Jeptoo. “This is a great moment for me, and this is a day I will not forget for the rest of my life.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg