Peres Jepchirchir Wins the 2021 New York City Marathon
On a perfect fall day at the New York City Marathon, the top women took advantage of the conditions to run fast times.
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A perfect fall day welcomed the marathon back to New York City, providing a fitting stage for a 26.2-mile race that came down to a 200-meter sprint finish. The competition between the top three women went to Peres Jepchirchir, 28, of Kenya, who was also the 2021 Olympic marathon champion. She is the first woman to win the Games and the New York City Marathon in the same year, finishing on Sunday in 2:22:39.
Fellow Kenyan Viola Jeptoo, in her debut at the distance, was second in 2:22:44, and Ababel Yeshaneh, 30, of Ethiopia, was third in 2:22:52.
American Molly Seidel, the bronze medalist at the Tokyo Games, came in fourth, setting an American course record in 2:24:42. The mark was previously held since 2008 by Kara Goucher when she finished in 2:25:53.
Jepchirchir wins $100,000 for first place; Jeptoo takes $60,000; and Yeshaneh earns $40,000. Seidel take $25,000 as the first American finisher.
The race started under sunny conditions and a temperature of 40 degrees. The crisp autumn weather, combined with a gratitude for the opportunity to return to racing after the pandemic stole so many chances in 2020, made for a quick race—Jepchirchir’s time was the third-fastest ever run on the course. A pack of about a dozen women, which included Americans Seidel, Kellyn Taylor, and Laura Thweatt, stuck together up First Avenue, until Jepchirchir made a move around mile 20. Ruti Aga and Yeshaneh went with her as a gap emerged between the leaders, Jeptoo, and Seidel. Soon Jeptoo closed that gap to join the top women as Aga faded.
“It was my great honor to be the winner for the New York City Marathon…it was a great opportunity for me,” Jepchirchir said after the race. “It was my plan. The preparation was short but I tried my best.”
Jepchirchir came into the race not only with the gold medal, but also the fastest personal best (2:17:16). She gave some support along the way to her compatriot Jeptoo, who had never raced the distance before, encouraging Jeptoo to hang on in those final miles.
“I just kept talking to Peres and asking her, ‘Could you just help me until at least 35K?’ and she was really nice enough to just go with me,” Jeptoo said. “When it came to south Central Park, she told me to just hold on a little longer, that way I could at least end up in the top three or top two. So she was just encouraging me to keep pushing to end up in a good position.”
It was still anybody’s race as the trio embarked on the final 200 meters. But Jepchirchir surged decisively as she reentered Central Park, assuring herself the win with Jeptoo only four second behind. Yeshaneh was just 13 seconds off the win and remained a threat, coming into New York with a half marathon best of 1:04:31.
“I knew the winner…I know she is a very strong athlete,” Yeshaneh said through an interpreter. “However, every athlete comes here aiming to win and I was hoping to. It was my first time running in New York, so I’m very happy to be third.”
The Kenyan women ran in honor of Agnes Jebet Tirop, a 25-year-old rising star in Kenya who was stabbed to death in her home in October. Her husband has been arrested in her killing. Since Tirop’s death, the female athletes in the country have been speaking out against gender-based and domestic violence. Cheptoo had recently traveled with Tirop for a race in Germany and has been active in organizing efforts, including Tirop’s Angels, in Tirop’s memory.
“Knowing how she was murdered, the pain that she went through, has really affected me. Most of my time before and after the funeral I was really focused on bringing awareness to gender-based violence,” Jeptoo said. “We want women who are going through these situations to be able to speak up. We know a lot of athletes are suffering in silence. The reason why the Tirop’s Angels foundation was started was to reach victims of gender-based violence…I ran having Agnes in my heart today. I ran this race for Agnes.”
Seidel revealed after the race that she almost wasn’t able to line up, suffering two broken ribs in the lead up to the race. She said she didn’t want to disclose how she suffered the acute injury.
“It definitely hindered training for a little bit, but it was manageable for the race,” Seidel said. “Every buildup has challenges and this was an interesting one.”
The America women had five women place in the top 10. Taylor was sixth (2:26:10); Annie Frisbie seventh (2:26:18); Thweatt eighth (2:27:00); and Stephanie Bruce placed 10th (2:31:05).
“We had the international field, but then there’s always a race within the race,” Bruce said. “You know, we were all coming off the trials, probably wanting to beat each other, better our places. But then there’s a shared camaraderie when you’re out there. If you’re with someone you want to beat them, but you also know that you’re going to be better when you’re next to each other.”