Gebrselassie Retires from Competition After Failing to Finish NYC Marathon

Haile Gebrselassie, the world’s greatest long-distance athlete, broke down in tears on Sunday night after announcing his immediate retirement from competitive running.

Gebre Gebremariam crossed the finish line to win the men’s race of the New York City Marathon, his first victory in his first marathon. Photo: Avi Gerver/The New York Times

Gebre Gebremariam won the New York City Marathon in his debut at the distance, an unexpected Ethiopian champion on a day when his favored countryman, world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie, dropped out because of injury.

The 16th mile of the NYC Marathon was the last one of Haile Gebrselassie’s storied career. The world-record holder announced his retirement after dropping out of the race on a day that signaled the rise of a new Ethiopian star, Gebre Gebremariam.

Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat was another surprise winner, while Shalane Flanagan, making a marathon debut of her own, became the first American woman in two decades to finish second.

However, the world was still closely watching the NYC Marathon after the elite runners finished because of rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena, who was trying to complete the 42.2 kilometres after jogging the tunnels while trapped underground

Gebrselassie pulled out of the race with a right knee injury on the Queensboro Bridge. Gebremariam was near him in the large lead pack and encouraged him to keep going. “I can’t, Gebre. You have to move,” Gebrselassie urged the younger runner. “You have to reach them.”

The 26-year-old Gebremariam became the first man to win New York in his marathon debut since Rod Dixon in 1983. The 2009 cross-country world champion pulled away from Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai in the 24th mile to win in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 14 seconds.

“Even I told my wife, ‘I can finish this race, but I can’t win,”’ Gebremariam said. “When I saw in 19 or 17 miles, you know, I can win. I saw the pace and listen to my body too, so I can win.”

His wife, Werknesh Kidane, is an elite distance runner herself, who also planned to make her marathon debut in New York. But she had to pull out because of injury and watched the race back in Ethiopia with their two young sons.

“So maybe next year she’ll come and she’ll win too,” Gebremariam said with a smile.

Another Kenyan, Moses Kigen Kipkosgei, was third. Defending champion Meb Keflezighi of the United States finished sixth.

The 31-year-old Kiplagat won her first major marathon title in 2:28:20.

“When we were in the 24th mile, I tried to put more effort,” she said. “I found myself pulling away from the field, so I was excited when I reached 25 miles because that’s when I found I was ahead of the other ladies.

“When I crossed the finish line, I was so happy.”

Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters, was 20 seconds back. Kim Jones in 1990 was the last American woman to finish in the top two.

“I’m very grateful for second, first of all. But as soon as I finished I thought about what I could have done to have won it,” Flanagan said. “So I think that’s why the marathon is so addicting, because you always want more to do it again. “

Kenya’s Mary Keitany, also making her marathon debut, was third.

More than 45,000 runners started the 41st edition of the race through the city’s five boroughs. [via NPR, Daily Telegraph (UK), NY Times and CBS (CA)]

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