With a deep field of professional athletes representing 22 countries – including five men with half-marathon personal bests of an hour or less – the seventh-annual NYC Half on Sunday is making a statement: In New York, even the half-marathon is big.
And that also goes for the field as a whole: 15,000 runners (expanded from 10,000 in 2011) on a new course that runs around Central Park, through Times Square, and under Battery Park to a spectacular finish at South Street Seaport.
"The NYC Half keeps growing in every way," said Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners. "As we made a quantum leap this year in the size of the participant field, we made a quantum leap in the quality of the professional field, and this is the best one we've see yet. It's important to us in this Olympic year to give fans the chance to watch many of these athletes from around the world on their road to London."
Among those chasing prize money totaling $100,000 will be Americans Meb Keflezighi, Kara Goucher, and Desiree Davila, all members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon team; Dathan Ritzenhein, a 2008 Olympic marathoner whose personal best of 1:00:00 makes him the second-fastest American in history; Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, winner of four U.S. road titles in the last six months; Ed Moran, the 2010 U.S. 10K champion; and Scott Bauhs, who posted a 1:01:30 at the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January.
Leading a formidable contingent of international athletes in what may go down as one of the best men's half-marathons of 2012 are Deriba Merga of Ethiopia, whose PB of 59:15 leads the field; countryman Feyisa Lelisa, who set a PB of 59:22 in winning the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon in January; Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil, a two-time ING New York City Marathon champion with a half-marathon PR of 59:33, and Kenya's Peter Kirui (59:40), who in 2011 paced Patrick Makau and Wilson Kipsang to the two fastest official marathons in history.
"The field is really strong," said Ritzenhein at a media roundtable today. "There's a couple of guys who've run under 60 minutes, and they probably want to do that again. If that's the case, I'd better be ready to go."
On the women's side, New Zealand's Kim Smith, riding a half-marathon winning streak of six dating back to 2010, last year ran the two fastest half-marathons ever in North America (1:07:36 and 1:07:11), giving her the second-fastest PB in the women's field behind Goucher's 1:06:57 from 2007.
She will be joined by Hilda Kibet (1:08:39), who won the NYC Half in 2007; defending champion Caroline Rotich, who set her PB in winning the NYC Half last year in 1:08:52; Lisa Weightman of Australia (1:09:00); and 2011 ING New York City Marathon champion Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia (1:09:26)
Among the athletes who will be making their debuts at the distance is Great Britain's Chris Thompson, who last November won the inaugural NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K.
"I was buzzing for a few weeks after that, I'll tell you," said Thompson, a top candidate to make his nation's Olympic team at 10,000 meters. "If I could do that again, it would be amazing."