With Final Lean, Kenya’s Leonard Korir Wins Half Marathon


It started as a half marathon and ended as a sprint.

In a stunning finish in Lower Manhattan on Sunday, Leonard Korir of Kenya kicked past his countryman and training partner Stephen Sambu, outleaning him at the tape to win the NYC Half, covering the 13.1-mile distance in 1 hour 1 minute 6 seconds. Sambu, who led almost the entire race and appeared to have the race in hand when he burst from the leading pack with about a half-mile to go, was timed in 1:01.07.

In the women’s race, Molly Huddle of Providence, R.I., became the first American woman in the 10-year history of the event to win. Huddle, 30, tied the event record of 1:08:31, finishing ahead of the Kenyans Joyce Chepkirui and Sally Kipyego. Chepkirui finished in 1:08:42. Kipyego, the defending champion and co-record holder, ran 1:09:39.

“It means a lot to me,” Huddle said of being the first American to win. “It wasn’t really on my mind to win. I just wanted to run as fast as I could today and see how the winter training was going to pay off. I kind of thought, at 10 miles, you’ll know if that option is there, to try and run for the win, or second place, even. Fortunately, it played in my favor and I felt really strong.”

Korir, 28, who attended Iona and won N.C.A.A. titles in the 5,000-meter run indoors and the 10,000 outdoors, wasn’t among the athletes whose biographies were included in the event’s media guide. And on the television broadcast, he was misidentified as Wesley Korir, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion, who is also Kenyan. The Korirs are not related.

“You know, most people don’t know me,” Korir said, grinning slightly. “I think I was like a dark horse. Nobody knew I was going to win.”

People may know Korir a little better now. He trains with Sambu and the veteran middle-distance runner Bernard Lagat in Arizona, so he knew he had a better kick than Sambu, who likes to push the pace. The only question was whether Korir would be able to stay close enough to give himself a chance at the end. The two were in the lead group, along with Juan Luis Barrios of Mexico and Lusapho April of South Africa, for the entire race, which started in Central Park, until Sambu broke away with about 800 meters to go. Korir went with him, though he trailed by a few strides and seemed headed for a runner-up finish.

“I was telling myself, I will be No. 2,” Korir said. “But with 150 to go, I saw Stephen was not going. So I was telling myself, You know what? Win this thing.”

The two men, dressed in identical fluorescent yellow tops, drove to the line side-by-side. Looking straight on from beyond the finish line, it was impossible to tell who was in front, until Korir raised his arms as he hit the tape. Sambu acknowledged that Korir’s charge caught him by surprise.

“It was unbelievable,” Sambu said. “I didn’t know it was coming. When I was almost at the finish line, I didn’t know he was that close. When I was trying to cross the line, he was crossing the line. I didn’t believe he was passing me. It was painful.”

Barrios finished third in 1:01:14 and April fourth in 1:01:21. Andrew Bumbalough, running in his first half-marathon, was the top American man, finishing fifth in 1:02:04, three seconds ahead of his fellow American Dathan Ritzenhein. Another American, Meb Keflezighi, 39, finished eighth in 1:02:17.

Korir and Huddle, who each took home $20,000 prizes, talked about possibly running full marathons someday. Korir said he would not do it this year, but Huddle was not so definitive. She said her priority was to focus on the World Championships in Beijing in August, but she didn’t rule out possibly returning for the New York City Marathon in November.

“I’m closer to marathon training than I was maybe three years ago,” she said. “I just think the mentality of it, and wrapping my head around the patience, and kind of, the grind of the marathon, is what I need to start working on in the next year or so.”

In the second year of wheelchair competition, the men’s and women’s races featured event records. Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won the men’s race in 48:54, 18 seconds ahead Joshua George, the American who won last year. George finished in 49:11, 86 seconds faster than a year ago. Canada’s Michel Filteau was third in 52:25.

Manuela Schar of Switzerland won the women’s race in 54:38, shattering the previous mark of 59:25, set by Canada’s Diane Roy. The Americans Susannah Scaroni and Tatyana McFadden finished second and third, in 54:58 and 56:54.