NEW YORK – It was just five years ago – in 2013 – that no American woman finished in the top 10 at the New York City Marathon.
Sunday there were four in the top seven, marking the best performance by the U.S. women here since 1977. Defending champion Shalane Flanagan captured third, leading a growing crop of U.S. runners that are making inroads on the international scene.
“The top American talents are going to the marathon more than in the past,” noted two-time Olympian Molly Huddle, who was one spot behind Flanagan in fourth. “It’s become a glamorous event for us.”
“It’s a great group of runners,” added Desiree Linden, the Boston Marathon champion who finished sixth Sunday. “We’re continually pushing the bar for each other. You can win a major and then not be the top American in the next one. It’s insane.”
It was an insanely successful day for the U.S. overall, with four American men finishing inside the top 10, led by Olympian Jared Ward in sixth, the same place he finished in at the Rio Games in 2016.
Allie Kieffer was seventh among the women, while Scott Fauble took the same spot for the men. Shadrack Biwott and Chris Derrick rounded out the top 10 finishers for the red, white and blue.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Linden, herself a two-time Olympian. “I hope it’s getting a lot of eyeballs on the sport. We want to inspire the next generation and add depth in the future.”
The benchmarks to come are important ones over the next two years, including the spring marathon season – namely Boston and London – the 2019 world championships in Doha and the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which for the marathon will be held in Atlanta in February 2020.
All of which, no doubt, culminates at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in July 2020.
“I think (the U.S. marathon squad) will be one of the hardest teams to make,” for Tokyo, said Huddle, a career competitor in the 5,000- and 10,000-meters before making her marathon debut here in 2016. “But we’ll be sending a team where all three can do something (at the Olympics) and that’s pretty exciting.”
Not Flanagan – nor anyone – could contest with winner Mary Keitany on Sunday over this famed 26.2-mile course, the Kenyan capturing her fourth New York win with a time of 2:22:48.
Flanagan was some three minutes back at 2:26:22, which was a full 30 seconds faster than her winning time from last year. Huddle, at 2:26:44, set a personal best by 90 seconds on what she described as a “good day” to race, with temperatures settling in the mid-50s and little wind at play, particularly in a majestically still Central Park for the finish.
Flanagan made history as an American champ last year – the first female since Miki Gorman in ’77 – and made a much-talked-about return as defending champion here, calling it the last major marathon of her career, which includes a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in the 10,000.
“I could not pass on coming back,” Flanagan said on ESPN2 about defending her title. “When I did get into third place, I felt really proud of myself. It gave me a boost. … I was overcome with emotion as I was coming down that home stretch, as I think everyone is. I’ve had an unbelievable time performing here.”
“We’re really invested in what we do, it’s kind of scary.”
Flanagan mouthed the words “I love you” as she crossed the line, explaining later that she was speaking to the running community, the New York fans and the great women she was competing with.
On her future, she told reporters, “I want to take a few hours and give myself the time to decompress after the race. I do feel like my heart is leaning towards serving others with the knowledge that I have gained. It’s swinging more in that direction than focusing on my own running.”
She ends her New York marathon career with three podiums in three runs: silver in 2010, gold in 2017 and bronze this year.
Both Huddle and Linden will take a couple weeks of rest (“I haven’t planned much past lunch,” today, Linden joked), before turning their eyes toward the future. Huddle said she would like to run a marathon next spring before focusing on the Olympic Trials.
Should she not make the U.S. Olympic team for marathon, Huddle said she’s all but certain she’ll try on the track, as well, where she’s a much more familiar face.
But as Flanagan looks to be eying the exit, Huddle and Linden are well aware of Kieffer and a whole slew of young Americans that could compete in the coming years. Linden said with the timing (late September 2019) of worlds so close to the Olympic Trials (February 2020), a few of those up-and-comers could have a breakout race in Doha, meaning the landscape will be that much more competitive in Atlanta.
Four additional American women were in the top 10 last month in Chicago, all running sub-2:40 times.
And while it was no headline-grabbing, history-making flourish-of-a-finish like 2017 here for Flanagan, Team USA walks away confidently from Central Park.
Flanagan is especially pleased with her bronze.
“My standards for New York are pretty high – with a second and a first (in the past) – and I thought, ‘If this really is going to be my last race, a podium spot would be really special,’” she said.
With three American women in the top 10 in at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 two years ago (including Flanagan and Linden), can they go a step further and get on the podium in Tokyo 2020? It hasn’t happened since Deena Kastor’s bronze in Athens – 18 years ago prior to Tokyo.
If Sunday was any indication, that answer could most certainly be “yes.”