A Look Back: The New York City Marathon in 1999 and 2009

The New York City Marathon has seen nearly 50 years’ worth of thrilling performances, technological and logistical innovations, and phenomenal growth since its first running as four-plus loops of Central Park, back in 1970.

With the 50th running of this iconic race coming up in 2020, we’ll be celebrating the event’s amazing history over the next year. Here, we take a look at the 1999 and 2009 editions.

1999: They Ran Like It Was…

Date: November 7, 1999
Race director: Allan Steinfeld
NYC Mayor: Rudolph Giuliani
Wave starts: 1
Weather: 46 degrees F, sunny
Winners: Adriana Fernandez, MEX, 2:25:06; Joseph Chebet, KEN, 2:09:14
Finishers: 31,786 (22,626 men; 9,160 women)
Random fact: The Ronzoni Pasta Party, held on marathon eve, served 9,000 pounds—or 52 miles worth—of Ronzoni Pasta.

The 1999 New York City Marathon, the 30th running, was historic for more reasons than being the final edition of the last millennium.

The race saw the first crowning of a Mexican female champion as Adriana Fernandez took the tape in 2:25:06, about a minute and a half in front of Catherine Ndereba of Kenya. Ndereba, who later became known as “Catherine the Great,” set a marathon world record of 2:18:47 in 2001 and won two marathon world championships, four Boston Marathon titles, and two Chicago Marathon titles.

Adriana Fernandez winning the 1999 New York City Marathon

On the men’s side, Kenya’s Joseph Chebet won with a time of 2:09:14 in a tight race, with Domingos Castro of Portugal second in 2:09:20 and Shem Kororia of Kenya third in 2:09:32. The top six men all broke 2:10, an impressive showing on NYC’s tough course.

Joseph Chebet winning the 1999 New York City Marathon

The top wheelchair finishers broke no tapes, but 1999 was the last year that would be the case. Athletes with disabilities had participated in the New York City Marathon ever since Dick Traum broke barriers by running the 1976 race with a prosthetic leg, becoming the first known amputee to complete a marathon. However, it took a 1999 lawsuit filed by a group of wheelchair athletes, alleging discrimination, for the marathon to sanction an official wheelchair division in 2000 and to award prize money starting in 2001.

This year’s wheelchair-division top finishers will share a prize purse of $155,000, the largest in the world.

The 1999 race was also the final time that runners turned right off Fifth Avenue at 102nd Street in the 23rd mile to enter Central Park, climbing a short, steep hill before making a left turn to continue south on East Drive. Starting in 2000, the course took runners south on Fifth Avenue to Engineers’ Gate at 90th Street—the route that continues to this day.

The 1999 race saw the introduction of a timing chip, known as the ChampionChip, that runners attached to their shoe to record their time. According to an article in the November 8 New York Times, “For the first time, technology allowed friends, relatives and anyone with computer access to learn how runners fared in the New York City Marathon within about 15 minutes of them crossing the finish line.”

But the 1999 race was in some ways decidedly old-school. According to the media guide, a substantial majority of U.S. entrants got in through the “NYC Marathon Line-Up,” an event held in April in Central Park in which applicants were personally handed a print application to complete, sign, and mail in with their entry fee. “The Line-Up stretched for over a mile, from the Marathon Finish Line at West 67th Street to West 90th Street and beyond, with a new record-high 13,254 hopeful Marathoners collecting their special line-up entry forms in person,” the guide noted. “Once runners received their applications, they mailed them back as quickly as possible.”

2009: When Meb Made History

Date: November 1, 2009
Race director: Mary Wittenberg
NYC Mayor: Michael Bloomberg
Wave starts: 3
Weather: 47 degrees, overcast
Winners: Open division: Derartu Tulu, ETH, 2:28:52; Meb Keflezighi, USA, 2:09:15. Wheelchair division: Edith Wolf Hunkeler, SUI, 1:58:15; Kurt Fearnley, AUS, 1:35:58
Finishers: 43,660 (28,485 men; 15,175 women)
Random fact: The 2009 New York City Marathon was the final 26.2 for George Hirsch, NYRR’s chairman of the board of directors, who finished in 4:06:14 at age 75. Now 85, Hirsch continues to race shorter distances, routinely topping his age group.

In 2009, the 40th running of the New York City Marathon saw Meb Keflezighi become the first American male open-division winner in 27 years. Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist, had placed second in New York in 2004 and third in 2005. He claimed the top podium spot after pulling away from Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot of Kenya with three miles to go. His time of 2:09:15 was a personal best and the win was his first in a marathon.

Meb Keflezighi after winning the 2009 New York City Marathon

One of the many honors bestowed upon Keflezighi was an invitation to return to New York to ride on the Statue of Liberty float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “It was a big honor,” said Keflezighi. “It gave me great pride. Both the marathon and the parade were great moments and memorable times in my life.”

The women’s open division title went to 1992 Olympic 10,000m gold medalist Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia, who became the first woman from her country to win the New York City Marathon. Her time of 2:28:52 put her eight seconds in front of runner-up Ludmila Petrova of Russia, who’d won the race in 2000. Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, the race’s 2004, 2007, and 2008 champion, was fourth.

In the men’s wheelchair division, Australian Kurt Fearnley continued his dominance with a fourth-consecutive victory; he’d win again in 2014. Women’s wheelchair winner Edith Wolf Hunkeler of Switzerland captured her fifth title. Fearnley, Wolf Hunkeler, and American Tatyana McFadden remain the winningest wheelchair-division athletes in New York City Marathon history, with five victories apiece.

The 2009 marathon was the second edition of the race to start in waves. A three-wave start was introduced in 2008. The 2009 race, also featuring three waves, had 43,660 finishers, which shattered the record for the largest marathon in history. By 2014 the race included four waves, starting on both the upper and lower levels of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The 2018 TCS New York City Marathon (see image below) had 52,813 finishers, again making it the largest marathon in history.

The 2009 New York City Marathon week featured events for youth including a “Runners for the Future” benefit event and the 11th annual Run with Champions in Central Park. In 2019, the TCS Run with Champions will welcome hundreds of kids to the finish line on Friday, November 1, and the fifth annual Rising New York Road Runners Youth Invitational will take place in Central Park on Marathon Sunday, while Rising New York Road Runners Youth Ambassadors will participate in media and broadcast events all week long.

Author: Gordon Bakoulis

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