NEW YORK — Freezing temperatures and a dusting of snow on Sunday did little to slow Wilson Kipsang, who ran away from a pack of elite runners to win the 13.1-mile New York City Half, the first major road race in the city since Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the marathon in November.
Kipsang, who won a bronze medal last year in the marathon for Kenya at the Olympic Games in London, bided his time early in the race, which began in Central Park and ended near Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. It was the eighth running of the race, which this year featured 21 Olympians.
After a dozen runners jockeyed for position during a slow loop around Central Park, Kipsang surged to the front just before 9 1/2 miles and cruised to the finish in his first half-marathon in New York, winning in 1:01:02.
Daniele Meucci of Italy and Dathan Ritzenhein, the second-fastest American at the distance, finished four and eight seconds behind respectively. Bernard Lagat’s highly anticipated debut at this distance was ultimately a learning experience. Lagat, 38, finished 12th at 1:02:33.
In the women’s field, Caroline Rotich, the champion from 2011, led for most of the race, running away from one of the favorites, Kim Smith of New Zealand, who did not finish. But about halfway down the Hudson River waterfront, she was caught by Diane Nukuri-Johnson of Burundi and Lisa Stublic, an all-American in cross country at Columbia University who lives in Croatia.
However, Rotich, also from Kenya, recovered in the last mile to win in 1:09.09. Nukuri-Johnson and Stublic finished three and nine seconds behind, respectively.
Kipsang and Rotich each earned $20,000 in prize money.
The race was something of a coming-out party for New York Road Runners. The group was criticized last year for first insisting that the New York City Marathon should be run less than a week after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New York metropolitan area, and then canceling the race just 48 hours before the scheduled start.
After reaching a settlement with its insurers, Road Runners took the unusual step of offering refunds, an option that half of the 60,000 entrants chose. About 600 other entrants opted for a spot in Sunday’s half marathon, while the rest of the entrants will use their guaranteed entry to join this year’s marathon, or the race in 2014 or 2015.
Though the start of spring is less than a week away, the 14,600 runners who lined up in Central Park for the start at 7:30 a.m. endured temperatures of 30 degrees. The men’s and women’s elite fields started relatively slowly as a result. The leaders in the men’s race were about 30 seconds off last year’s pace for the first several miles.
In the women’s race, Smith pushed ahead through the hilliest part of the course in Central Park, but then dropped out because of a tight quadriceps muscle just past the halfway mark.
The slow pace, however, allowed Lagat and his training partner, Abdi Abdirahman, to keep pace with the leaders for the first half of the race.
“I was trying to stay warm in there at the beginning,” said Lagat, the two-time Olympic medalist at the 1,500 meters who plans to slowly transition into a road racer. “But it was affecting everybody. So it wasn’t only me, and everybody that finished the race, it was cold.”
Kipsang, who was the favorite because he has run a half-minute faster than anyone else in the field at this distance, was at the back of the leading pack for about the first six miles. After the runners exited Central Park, he moved into the front with Ritzenheim, Juan Luis Barrios of Mexico and a few others.
As the group headed west on 42nd Street and south along the Hudson River, the pack thinned further until Kipsang bolted to the front for good.
“When I tried to break off from the group, I saw that I was really feeling good, and I was in a position to break off from the group and win this race,” said Kipsang, whose personal best at the half marathon is 58:59.
Rotich broke away from the leaders of the women’s race well before the runners reached Times Square, and for several miles she was nearly alone. But Nukuri-Johnson and Stublic tracked Rotich down along the river. Rotich did not shake the pair until the final mile of the race.
“When I took off, I knew it’s not over until it’s over,” said Rotich, who set her personal best at the half marathon in New York two years ago. “So when they came, I was like, yeah, I was waiting for this.”
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