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American Meb Keflezighi wins NYC Marathon

Meb Keflezighi of the US celebrates his victory

Meb Keflezighi of the US celebrates his victory Nov. 1. Credit: Getty Images Photo

American Meb Keflezighi won the 40th running of the New York City Marathon, becoming the first American man to win since 1982.

Keflezighi set a new personal best with his winning time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 15 seconds.

Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia  won the women's division in her comeback to the sport.

>>PHOTOS: Snapshots from the 2009 New York City Marathon

>>Race results (Official NYC Marathon site)

Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, learned after a
disappointing performance in the U.S. Olympic trials in New York
two years ago he had a stress fracture in his hip. He capped the
long and painful comeback with a landmark victory against a deep
field for his first major marathon title.

That day in 2007 he also lost close friend Ryan Shay, who
collapsed and died during the race. Keflezighi said the tears he
shed after winning were for Shay.

Born in Eritrea, the 34-year-old became a U.S. citizen in 1998.

“The USA gave me all the opportunities there is in education,
sports and lifestyle,” he said. “To be able to represent the USA
is a big thing for me.”

Keflezighi pulled away from Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya in the
23rd mile to beat the four-time Boston Marathon champ by 41
seconds. Alberto Salazar had been the last American men’s champion, taking three straight titles from 1980-82.

Morocco’s Jaouad Gharib finished third and Ryan Hall was fourth
on an impressive day for U.S. distance running, with six Americans
in the top 10 for the first time since 1979. The race doubled at
the national men’s marathon championship.

On the women's side, Tulu pulled away in the final mile. The 37-year-old won Olympic gold medals on the track in the
10,000 meters in 1992 and 2000. She hadn’t won a major marathon since 2001 in London.

41-year-old Russian Ludmila Petrova was the runner-up for the second straight year, while Christelle Daunay of France was third.

Two-time defending champ Paula Radcliffe was fourth. The world record-holder from Britain fell back from the lead pack in the 22nd mile. She grabbed her left leg in pain after finishing.

Radcliffe said she had tendinitis behind her knee, and failed to win a marathon for just the third time in 11 starts.

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see photos from the 2009 New York City Marathon

Nearly 44,000 runners started the under gray skies and mild temperatures.

Pedestrians and bystanders took over the Big Town, from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge to Central Park.

"The spectators," marveled Grete Waitz, the Norwegian native who became the face of the event in the 1970s and '80s. "I couldn't believe this race. I remember asking someone if it was a holiday. It was an eye-opener, people of all nationalities, dressed like I never had seen before."

And that was back in 1978, pioneer days for the event that was being run through the city's five boroughs for only the third time, when Waitz ran and won the first of her record nine New York titles. There were a mere 9,875 runners that year, though the spectator numbers already were being estimated to be beyond a million.

The impressive field of international pros were racing for a total prize purse of almost $1 million and leading the usual parade of engineers, teachers, physicians, students and other ordinary citizens who take on this 26-mile, 385-yard challenge just for fun.

Sixteen Olympians were entered, including 52-year-old Joan Benoit Samuelson, who in 1984 won the first Olympic marathon contested for women. And six world championship medalists, including current women's world record-holder Radcliffe (2:15:25). And six who have held their national marathon records - besides Radcliff for Great Britain, Morocco's Jaouad Gharib, Brazil's Marilson Gomes dos Santos, America's Ryan Hall and Keflezighi and South Africa's Henrik Ramala.

"The Americans are knocking on the door," said Bill Rodgers, the Connecticut native who won New York four consecutive times in the bygone era (1976-79) when the U.S. dominated the event. "But that's what I love about our sport; it's so international."

At 61, Rodgers this year merely will make a cameo appearance -"I'm a retired marathoner," he said - by running the last six miles with 75-year-old New York Road Runners Club board chairman George Hirsch.

Even when Kenya's Martin Lel, twice a New York winner, withdrew during the week because of a leg injury, race Director Mary Wittenberg still could brag that the race would feature six men who have run faster than 2:08. (The world record is 2:03:59.) And five women who have gone under 2:25.

Those are times that would have been good enough to win all but one of New York's previous 39 men's races - Ethiopia's Tesfaye Jifar went 2:07:43 in 2001 - and all but seven of the women's races (three of those faster times coming from Radcliffe.).

"What began with barely a whimper in 1970, when 55 men finished, today is one of the world's greatest sports spectacles," Wittenberg proclaimed. With numbers that continue to multiply: More than 6,000 volunteers, 132 bands performing along the route, 41 medical aid stations, 62,370 gallons of water and 1,658 portable toilets for runners. And a medal each finisher, even though the slowest will be four hours behind the champion.

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see photos from the 2009 New York City Marathon

>>RESULTS: Click here for race results and times, direct from the NYC Marathon Web site

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