Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Lynne in NYC

Kopac's Corner

The 2007 NYC Half Marathon – the Finest Hour

by Bob Kopac

The weather gods smiled on the second annual NYC Half Marathon. The day before and the day after the half marathon were HHH – hot, humid and horrible for running. However, on race day morning the humidity had disappeared, there was a slight tail wind, and the temperature was around 70 degrees at the start of the race – perfect conditions for a summer race in New York City and perfect conditions for fast, perhaps legendary, race times.Lynne Kopac in Times Square

The course started around 85th Street inside Central Park and consisted of one clockwise loop through the park before exiting the southwest part of the park onto 7th Avenue. The elite athletes took advantage of the favorable weather from the very start of the race, running the first mile in 4:19. They continued at a hot pace through the next several miles in the park, even through the Harlem Hills in the northwest part of the park.

Leaving the park around mile 7, the leading men runners consisted of Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, one of the best distance runners of all time, having broken 24 world records in his career; Abdi Abdirahman, 3-time USA 10,000 meter champion, formerly from Somalia and now a U.S. citizen; and Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya, the 2006 and 2007 winner of the Boston Marathon and current World Marathon Majors leader.

As they headed south on 7th Avenue, Abdi Abdirahman surged on the downhill in an attempt to distance himself from Cheruiyot and Gebrselassie. However, Haile Gebrselassie proved himself to be an adept poker player. Not only did he call Abdirahman on the surge, he raised the ante by then putting on his own surge. Abdirahman could not match the counter-surge, and Gebrselassie gained more and more separation from Abdirahman as they ran down 7th Avenue towards Times Square.

At this point the men’s race effectively was over, and the only questions were how large Gebrselassie’s margin of victory would be and what his finishing time would be. There might have been one more question about why was he was tempting fate by running so close to the center divider of the West Park Highway. However, nothing could stop the Haile express, for it was his hour—literally—as he crossed the finish line breaking the one-hour barrier.

Gebrselassie finished in 59:24, more than a minute in front of Abdi Abdirahman, who finished in 1:00:29. Gebrselassie’s time was the second fastest half marathon ever run in the United States. With the win, Gebrselassie remained undefeated at the half marathon distance, having won all eight of the half marathons he has entered.

Robert Cheruiyot finished third in 1:00:58 and later was taken to the hospital for observation for dizziness. As for the American males, the next American after Abdi Abdirahman was Alan Culpepper of Lafayette, CO in a time of 1:03:34, good for 6th place, while Peter Gilmore of Menlo Park, CA finished in 15th place in 1:05:06. Lead women runners

In sharp contrast to the men’s race, the women’s race resembled a social event. Megumi Oshima of Japan, Madai Perez of Mexico, Yuri Kano of Japan, Nina Rillstone of New Zealand, Hilda Kibet of Kenya, and last year’s winner Catherine Ndereba of Kenya ran through Times Square in such a tight pack, these six runners could have been mistaken as being members of a running team – a well-coordinated elite running team, that is. The race, somewhat slower than last year’s women’s race, was a tactical race where no one would take a commanding lead as Haile had done earlier in the men’s race. The women’s race would be decided on the West Side Highway.

The first to falter was Megumi Oshima, followed by Madai Perez and then Yuri Kano. That left Kibet, Ndereba, and Rillstone to battle it out. As they raced down towards the finish line, no one could take a commanding lead. Then, with the 3 runners in a virtual tie with scant meters to go, Hilda Kibet did a final sprint. With her superior finishing kick, Kibet crossed the line in 1:10:32, nipping Catherine Ndereba by one second and Nina Rillstone by 3 seconds. Rillstone set a new New Zealand women’s half marathon record with her time of 1:10:35.

The first American female was Zoila Gomez of Alamosa, CO in 8th place with a time of 1:13:49. The 2nd was Samia Akbar of Herndon, VA in a time of 1:16:17, good for 12th place. Caroline Bierbaum of NYC was the 3rd American in 1:18:03, in 14th place.

Almost 10,000 more runners streamed across the finish line and then walked to Battery Park for post-race festivities. The NYC Half boasts the most scenic family reunion area of any race in the country, with a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in one direction and Wall Street in the other direction. There was a carnival atmosphere during the race party, with plenty of music and performers on stilts wandering through the crowd.

At the awards ceremony, Haile Gebrselassie received his first place award to enthusiastic applause for his stellar performance. Returning the favor, he congratulated all the runners who had finished the half marathon. He greatly admired them, he said, for he would never be able to run for 3 hours as many of the finishers had. He also thanked the large contingent of wildly enthusiastic Ethiopian supporters in attendance.

Under the clear blue, non-humid skies of Battery Park, all the runners celebrated the finish of a great 2007 NYC Half Marathon and the history-making performance of Haile Gebrselassie.

Mid-Hudson runners:MHRRC runners: Linda Spyker-Oles, Jack Spyker-Oles, Denise Iannizzotto, Lynne Kopac, and Kirsten Roberts.