NEW YORK -- For about an hour Sunday in the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon, Joyciline Jepkosgei ran alongside four-time champion and countrywoman Mary Keitany. It was either runner's race to win.
But then in the 23rd mile, Jepkosgei, from Kenya, took in some fluids and began to look stronger. And stronger. It was she, not one of the legends of the New York City marathon, who was taker longer strides and pushing herself past her threshold. Jepkosgei first broke away from Keitany by four seconds. By the 25th mile, she was leading by more than 16 seconds, even as she was visibly laboring down the stretch. At one point, Jepkosgei turned to make sure she had enough distance between her and Keitany. Jepkosgei had nothing to worry about. She was about to make history.
Jepkosgei, 25, was making her marathon debut. For Keitany, she had won this event four of the past five years. Jepkosgei crossed the finish line at 2:23:32 and raised her hands in the air as her stoic face gave way to a victory smile.
"I knew Mary had more experience in marathon, so I was trying to push," Jepkosgei said during an interview at the finish line.
Keitany finished 54 seconds later, and afterward, praised her faster opponent's performance.
"I celebrate my colleague [Joyciline Jepkosgei]," Keitany said in her post-race news conference. "We are happy that we won medals back home for Kenya."
It was a signature moment -- the marathon debutant taking the torch from one of the best marathoners of all time. American Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 winner here and a member of this year's TCS New York City Marathon Broadcast Team, called this a "no-excuse race day." Conditions were a perfect 50 degrees with a steady but light breeze.
"Obviously, both of them are fantastic," American Desi Linden said afterward. "Mary is what, 37? Obviously, at some point, there is going to be a changing of the guard, and Joyciline is fantastic in the half. And to step into her first marathon and knock it out of the park and beat one of the greats [is] great. No shortage of stars here."
Here is what you need to know about Jepkosgei, running's latest star:
Her background in a nutshell
Jepkosgei broke into the list of elite athletes after winning the Prague Half Marathon in April 2017, becoming the first woman to break the 65-minute mark. That year, she also set records in the 10K, 15K and 20K, all within six months. Jepkosgei's idol is Kenya's Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon. Kiplagat's personal record of 2:19:50, set at the 2012 London Marathon, inspired Jepkosgei to be a better runner. The first time Jepkosgei visited the U.S. was in March 2019 for the New York Half Marathon. Her second visit? Her voyage to New York for the full marathon. Both winning efforts. Jepkosgei is also a member of the Kenyan Defense Forces.
Some sizzling stats
Jepkosgei's finish time Sunday of 2:22:38 is just seven seconds off the course record set by Margaret Okayo in 2003. There's another stat that intertwines the two runners: At 25, Jepkosgei became the youngest winner of the New York City Marathon since Okayo in 2001. Jepkosgei's finish is the fastest by a debutant woman in the history of the New York City Marathon. She also became the first woman to win her debut New York race since Kenya's Tegla Loroupe in 1994.
"Throughout the splits, I really didn't have any pressure at all. I was running my own race, and at last, I am the winner," Jepkosgei said. "I didn't really know that I can win, but I was trying my best to do it and to make it to the finish."
With Geoffrey Kamworor and Joyciline Jepkosgei winning their respective open divisions in the TCS NYC Marathon, it is the 6th time Kenyan runners have won both divisions in the same year at this event.
The USA is the only other country to accomplish this (7 times, last in 1977). pic.twitter.com/nnbxDoew38
- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 3, 2019
Marathon debut a long time in the works
Jepkosgei prepared for two years to run this race. She was supposed to make her marathon debut first in Honolulu last December but withdrew after twisting her ankle. She also helped out as a pacer in this year's London Marathon, using it as preparation for her ultimate debut -- and victory -- in New York. After her half-marathon victory in New York in March, Jepkosgei said she and her team decided she'd make her full-marathon debut in New York, with aspirations to win it. That goal paid off, as she became the first runner to win both races in the same year.
More from the New York City Marathon
An all-Kenyan affair
Kamworor wins 2nd NYC Marathon
Geoffrey Kamworor wins his second New York City Marathon in three years with a victory in the 2019 edition.
Geoffrey Kamworor, 26, made sure first place in both the open divisions belonged to Kenya, with a 2:08:13 finish. He has said in the past that New York is his favorite race; his maiden marathon victory came here in 2017, a victory that inspired him to come back for another chance at victory.
Unlike 2017, when Kamworor held off Wilson Kipsang by only three seconds, Kamworor won by 23 seconds Sunday.
"From the start of the race, I was feeling okay," Kamworor said in a statement. "I was comfortable. I prepared very well to run this marathon. Throughout the last few meters, the pace was somewhat high, and it wasn't a problem for me. That's when I decided to pull away."
He finished third last year.
Strong American presence
Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon winner, was the top American woman, finishing sixth at 2:26:46. Early Sunday, she led the race for several miles. At Mile 8, she had a 15-second lead from the rest of the competitors, but slowly, the lead pack caught up. Linden, who historically has a similar first- and second-half times, said she wanted to try something new this time, and that she was never going to be great if she kept trying the same tactics over and over again.
"It was a perfect day to take a crack at having a good one," Linden said after the race. "Even standing on the bridge, you could feel it was light wind, and when we started, it was at our back. [Coach] Walt [Drenth] always says, 'If you can't run fast on a day like this, you might as well go bowling.' That's the conditions we had. It was a good day to take a big swing."
The 36-year-old veteran, who said she would decide on pursuing her third Olympics based on her recovery from this race, said, half-jokingly, "Right now's not the time, just based on how my calves and my feet feel."
Perhaps an evening cocktail will help alleviate some of her pain.
The great @des_linden, post-NYC Marathon, where she finished 6th
Reporter: Is it a bourbon or whiskey night?
Linden: Bourbon is whiskey, Larry.
- Rachel Bachman (@Bachscore) November 3, 2019
American Kellyn Taylor (seventh) was the only other top-10 American woman. Altogether, nine American women finished in the top 20.
For the men, Jared Ward was the top U.S. finisher, at No. 6.
The surprising dropouts
Before the race began, many eyes were on men's defending champion Lelisa Desisa from Ethiopia. But at the seventh mile, he dropped out after stopping for a water break, citing hamstring strain. American Sara Hall, who recently finished fifth at the Berlin Marathon 35 days ago with her personal best of 2:22:16, also pulled out within the first 10 miles.
Hall later explained her decision on Twitter: "Very bummed to not be able to finish today at @nycmarathon Committed to my plan as long as I could, but had some stomach illness yesterday and today that left me feeling too weak & wobbly to keep going. Thank you to everyone who came out to support,your cheers helped so much!"
The wheelchair champions
Nobody knew of Daniel Romanchuk two years ago. Now, the 21-year-old American is the winner of back-to-back New York Marathons, after victories in the Boston and London Marathons earlier this year. With all the winning comes healthy earnings (he recently bought a house with his prize money) and experience (he joked one of the best things he has learned to do in the past year is to hold a mic and talk to media without getting anxious). Switzerland's Manuela Schar, 34, won her third straight marathon in the women's wheelchair division this year.
Sub-elite podium finisher
Imagine a podium finisher not having an agent nor a sponsor? That is the case with this year's men's third-place finisher, Ethiopia's sub-elite runner, Girma Bekele Gebre. His finished 2:08:28, only two seconds slower than Albert Korir, and earned $40,000 in the process. At the news conference, Gebre said he participates in the marathons he thinks suit him best and does his own training. Though he doesn't an agent, Gebre said he was hoping to have one soon. Any takers?