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Legally blind Marla Runyan is the highest American finisher at the New York City Marathon.
November 4, 2002
NEW YORK -- About 10 miles into the New York City Marathon, Marla Runyan and European champion Maria Guida crossed paths, bumping and stumbling a bit.
A short while later, Guida dropped out. Not the legally blind Runyan, who never had run a marathon until Sunday. She kept going, her fluid strides leading to the top U.S. finish -- fifth overall behind women's winner Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya.
"I'm very pleased with how I did," said Runyan, 33, the first Paralympian to compete in an Olympics. "You never know if you prepared properly, how the weather will affect you, how the distance will affect you."
With temperatures in the 40s and a slight headwind, Boston Marathon champion Rodgers Rop overcame pain in his side to finish in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 7 seconds and help Kenya complete its first sweep of the men's and women's titles.
Christopher Cheboiboch (2:08:17) -- also second in Boston -- and Laban Kipkemboi (2:08:39) gave Kenya the first 1-2-3 men's finish for a country since the United States in 1975.
Olympic bronze medalist Chepchumba ran the 26.2 miles in 2:25:56. Lyubov Denisova of Russia was 21 seconds behind, and Olivera Jevtic of Yugoslavia was third despite a late fall. Runyan was next in 2:27:10, 36 seconds ahead of defending champion Margaret Okayo, who set the course record last year but was slowed by lower back problems.
"She never ceases to amaze me," said Runyan's father, Gary. He traveled from Camarillo, Calif., to watch the race on TV at a restaurant near the finish line with her husband and coach, Matt Lonergan.
Runyan's time was the 10th fastest in a marathon by an American woman, all the more impressive considering she's accustomed to much shorter distances. She was eighth in the 1,500 meters at the 2000 Olympics, broke the U.S. record for the indoor 5,000 in 2001, and won the U.S. outdoor title at 5,000 in 2001-02.
"I really enjoyed it -- until 24 miles," Runyan said. "It surprisingly didn't feel as long as I thought it would. I felt very good even through 11 miles, 14 miles. The pace was conservative and that was probably ideal for me."
A degenerative eye condition, Stargardt's disease, limits her sight to about 15 feet, although she can't read a watch, for example, while she is running.
A cyclist rode near Runyan, telling her split times and when turns were coming.
Runyan was 10 seconds behind at the decisive moment: Jevtic and Kerryn McCann of Australia tangled at a turn in the 21st mile. Both fell face down, one on top of the other. Jevtic, in her first marathon, got right up and moved just off the shoulders of the leaders. McCann scraped her knee and was seventh.
The commotion allowed the lead pack to break away.
"Finishing fifth, in this field especially, was a long shot. Obviously, we saw a lot of strange things out there," Runyan said. "That's the marathon -- unpredictable."
Chepchumba and Denisova were stride-for-stride into the 24th mile, when the Kenyan made her move. She won marathons at Tokyo in 2000, and London and Chicago in 1999. But she's always come up short here, finishing fourth in 1995, third in 1996, and fourth in 2001.
"I've been trying and trying and trying," Chepchumba said. "This time was my time."
Rop became the fourth man to win at Boston and New York in the same year. That makes him 2-for-3; his only other marathon was New York last year, when he had muscle cramps and finished third.
Rop made his first serious move on the downhill stretch after the leaders crossed the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan about two-thirds of the way through. While others occasionally pulled alongside, he stayed in control.