ING New York City Marathon 2004 - Women's Race
With the surprise addition of Paula Radcliffe to the starter list at the NYC Marathon, we knew that this year's race would be something special. The confidence Radcliffe exuded at the pre-race press conferences told everyone that she was serious about the race and must be the favorite. If anyone else had said, as Radcliffe had before the race, "I've come here to win, there's no point in running a race for second or third place..." we'd have said that person would be a contender. With Paula Radcliffe, we had to say upfront: she'll be the winner, no point in even having a race for first place.
That said, the 2004 lineup was exceptionally strong: Margaret Okayo, the course record holder and defending champion was expected to put in a strong performance. Deena Kastor, with the confidence gained from picking up a bronze medal at the Olympic Marathon, was expected to be one of the top half-dozen finishers as well. Past world-record holder Tegla Loroupe, and champions Lornah Kiplagat and Susan Chepkemei were also strong enough to challenge for a top position - this was an impressive field.
In a practice just begun in 2002, the women started their race at 9:35AM, 35 minutes before the main start - providing a women's-only elite race. The temperature at the start was 55 degrees, with no clouds to block the wind. Considering that a number of these women had participated in the marathon in Athens in 80/90 degree heat, this must have been a welcome relief.
The first miles of the race were quick - and it was Paula Radcliffe who set the tone, running at a course record pace. But her group of challengers were not to be intimidated and the pack remained quite large for the first ten miles. Eight women managed to keep up - Leah Malot, Lornah Kiplagat, Asha Gigi, Margaret Okayo, Susan Chepkemei, Tegla Loroupe, Lidiya Grigoryeva and Madai Perez.
By the midway point, with the pacemakers dropping out, the race was down to four women: Paula Radcliffe, Lornah Kiplagat, Tegla Loroupe and Susan Chepkemei - these would be the women who would contend for the win and the top three positions.
The first of the group to fall of the pace was Tegla Loroupe, seeming to struggle as the runners moved across the 59th Street Bridge. Lornah Kiplagat looked to be in control of the group, but she was in a similar position in 2003 before fading in the final miles.
Up first avenue, Paula Radcliffe took control, leading Lornah Kiplagat and Susan Chepkemei. At mile 21, Kiplagat fell back, at first a few seconds and then further and further - she was out of contention for the win. Meanwhile, Radcliffe and Chepkemei, while still ahead of the rest of the field, began to fall back from the record pace. Margaret Okayo was strongly in fourth place, fifty seconds behind Kiplagat, and a minute ahead of Tegla Loroupe.
At Mile 22 (1:59:33), Susan Chepkemei pulled ahead of Radcliffe, although the two were still together. Interesting side note: In the pre-race press conference, Radcliffe was asked about the various women who might be contenders and the interviewer mentioned all runners but Chepkemei. Radcliffe began her answer by saying... "and Susan Chepkemei." Radcliffe, in some fashion was expecting this.
Radcliffe and Chepkemei ran together in lockstep until the race exited Central Park and re-entered at mile 26. But with 200+ meters to go, Radcliffe put on a surge and pulled away from Chepkemei. The finish: Radcliffe won in 2:23:10 and Susan Chepkemei finished in 2:23:14, creating the closest finish in NYC Marathon history. Two minutes later, Lyubov Denisova came from nowhere to finish as the third woman in 2:25:18. Margaret Okayo took fourth place in 2:26:31. Kiplagat, who faught for so long, faded badly and finished seventh in 2:28:21.
Asked if she was worried running so close to Susan Chepkemei near the finish: "In a lot of races I've been in that position and I've raced Susan for years. I guess it's a little different in the marathon and I suppose I could have gone earlier, but today it was about winning the race and not going for a time it was more about enjoying the race and enjoying the atmosphere... Yes, it was just about winning the race. In the last six, seven, eight miles, we weren't even looking for splits, we were just running.
Radcliffe was running with number F111 - why? It was one of the ones that was left and it was the number I had in my first London Marathon, so I thought I would go with that.
Was there every any doubt about winning the race? No, not really. The only question was that my stomach would hold together.... I just felt the way I was running I was confident with just running and then finishing strong... I've run the last part of the course and I've timed it, so I knew what the finish was like and I've raced it in the mini as well.
People were talking about Paula and Margaret Okayo and Lornah Kiplagat before the race, and not playing up your chances, how did that feel? "Well, it's a little bit challenging. I was concentrating for this race, but because Margaret was the winner last year, that's why they forecast her for this year. For me, I didn't have any pressure because of this and I was in good shape and I was concentrating on my race.
Was there a point in the last mile where you thought you could overtake Paula Radcliffe?
Blow by blow coverage of the ING NYC Marathon 2004 races:
MarathonGuide.com - 2004 ING New York City Marathon Pre-Race Interviews
MarathonGuide.com - 2004 ING New York City Marathon Elite List
NYC Marathon 2004: Men's Race
NYC Marathon 2004: Women's Race
NYC Marathon 2004: The Wheelchair Race
Also, Complete Results of the 2004 ING NYC Marathon