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Gomes wins, Prokopcuka repeats at NYC Marathon

11/5/2006

NEW YORK -- A Brazilian man finished strong to stun the
favored Africans, ending their decade-long hold on the New York
City Marathon. A Latvian woman ran away from the field to win her
second straight title, and later wondered why no one challenged
her.

And, despite another day of disappointment for Americans,
marathon rookie Lance Armstrong thrilled the crowds Sunday in what
he called "without a doubt the hardest physical thing I have ever
done."

Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil made a remarkable New York
debut, breaking away from the lead pack in the last quarter of the
race and holding off an all-star field of challengers to become the
first South American to win the race, man or woman. Gomes finished
in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds.

Women's defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka sped away early and
ran alone at the end, becoming the first woman in more than a
decade to win two straight titles in New York. She won in 2:25:05.

Armstrong crossed the finish line in 2:59:36 seconds, barely
meeting his goal of breaking 3 hours. The seven-time Tour de France
champion struggled at times, but -- as he has so many times on his
bicycle in the Alps -- found the energy to meet the challenge.

He was battling shin splints and had never before run longer
than 16 miles.

"I didn't train enough for a marathon," he said, his right
shin heavily taped as he shuffled into a post-race news conference.
"In 20 years of pro sports and endurance sports, even the worst
days on the Tour, nothing felt like that or left me the way I feel
now."

In the final mile, as the race headed back into Central Park,
Gomes surrendered about half the 30-second margin he had built over
the Kenyans. He glanced over his shoulder several times, at one
point doing a double-take when he saw a figure right behind him.
But it was a woman runner, who had started a half-hour before the
men.

"It wasn't a surprise, to win a marathon you have to have
courage and today I had courage," Gomes said through an
interpreter. "I pushed the pace to get less people in the [lead]
group. I kept pushing and they kept staying behind."

It certainly was a surprise to defending champion Paul Tergat,
who acknowledged later he didn't know much about Gomes. He and
Kenyan compatriot Stephen Kiogora worked together to push Gomes at
the end, but ran out of room. Kiogora was second in 2:10:06, while
Tergat was third. Kenyan men also took the fourth, fifth and
seventh spots, with Olympic champion Stefano Baldini of Italy in
sixth.

It was the first time in 10 years that an African man didn't win
the race.

"Gomes, I did not know exactly who he was. When he decided to
break, I think for some reason nobody wanted to move. We waited to
see who else was going to move," Tergat said. "The guy was
motivated. To try to close at the last stages, it was too late."

The top American was Peter Gilmore, who finished 10th in
2:13:13. U.S. runner Dathan Ritzenhein, making his marathon debut,
was 11th in 2:14:01. Meb Keflezighi, who was third and second the
last two years, finished 21st while battling a case of food
poisoning.

The women's race became little more than a coronation after
Prokopcuka made her bold move away from the lead pack, crushing the
hopes of Deena Kastor, the world's top-ranked marathoner, who was
favored to become the first American woman to win the race since
1977.

Prokopcuka led nearly from start to finish on a perfect day for
a marathon -- cool, cloudy and little wind. Kastor finished sixth in
2:27:54. Prokopcuka is the first woman to win two straight titles
since Tegla Loroupe of Kenya in 1994-95.

A record 38,368 runners started the race.

Armstrong was 856th, and several other celebrities also
finished, including mountain climber Ed Viesturs (3:15:25), former
Olympic gold-medal gymnast Shannon Miller (4:17:47), model Kim
Alexis (4:39:49) and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (5:33:43).

The U.S. drought grew by another year. No American has won the
New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982, and no woman
has won here since 1977. Until 1977, every New York race was won by
an American man and woman.

"We will be competitive again," said Salazar, who helped pace
Armstrong, "but it's unrealistic to think we will ever dominate
marathoning again."

In the men's race, a pack of nine runners led for the first
three-quarters of the race. Gomes made his move heading into the
Bronx, quickly opening a half-minute lead and maintaining it for
the next few miles.

Wearing black gloves and sleeves up over his biceps, a black cap
and yellow tank top, Gomes came across the finish line with his
arms raised, then made the sign of the cross. Wide smiles crossed
the Kenyans' faces as they finished behind the winner and
immediately embraced Gomes, who wore a pained look.

Prokopcuka separated from the other favorites in the opening few
strides of the race on the Verrazano Bridge, and joined Tatiana
Hladyr of Ukraine in a breakaway as the race wound through
Brooklyn. By the time the race reached Manhattan, the two Eastern
European women had built their lead to 40 seconds.

They kept pouring it on, extending their lead to nearly 90
seconds -- more than a quarter-mile on the streets of New York -- as
they headed into the Bronx and then back into Manhattan, where
Prokopcuka moved away from Hladyr for the final segment.

Prokopcuka broke the tape and kept on jogging for a few strides,
bouncing on the balls of her feet as she pumped her fists in the
air. She later said she had no idea why the other top runners
didn't stay with her from the start.

"I didn't understand what was going on. It was a situation I
couldn't understand," she said.

Hladyr finished second in 2:26:05, exactly a minute behind
Prokopcuka. A pair of Kenyans, four-time Boston Marathon winner
Catherine Ndereba and 2006 Boston winner Rita Jeptoo, were third
and fourth. Katie McGregor, an American making her marathon debut,
was ninth.

Kastor had vowed to run a tactical race, and said the other top
women's runners may have done the same thing -- worrying so much
about each other that perhaps they didn't take Prokopcuka's break
seriously enough.

"I think we were being a little tentative, and by the time it
was ready to roll it was too late," she said. "Tactically, this
was a very strange race. There were so many respectable women out
there that everybody was waiting for somebody else to make a
move."

The women's and men's winners of the race, whose primary sponsor
is Dutch financial services company ING, earned $130,000.