MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Kenyan man overcame a late blunder and sprinted to the finish line of Grandma’s Marathon, edging out an Ethiopian man by a fraction of a second Saturday and capping the closest finish in the race’s history.
Christopher Kipyego, 37, won with an unofficial time of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 16.36 seconds, beating Teklu Deneke by 0.20 seconds. The previous closest finish was a 4-second margin of victory in 1999.
Kipyego won $10,000 for the victory, plus a $1,500 bonus for finishing under 2 hours, 13 minutes.
The race wouldn’t have been as close had Kipyego not stopped short of the actual finish line. He pulled up at an electronic timing mat about 60 feet from the finish line and seemed ready to celebrate until he saw race officials urging him to continue.
He took off at a sprint, matched stride for stride by Deneke. They crossed the finish line together, producing the first photo finish in the 35-year history of the Grandma’s Marathon, according to a Duluth News Tribune report.
“If I hadn’t miscalculated the finish line, I wouldn’t have had to worry about winning. When it was over, I looked over at (Deneke) and I didn’t know. (A race official) came over and told me I had won,” said Kipyego. “Sometimes things happen like that in competition and if you don’t win, you have to accept it.”
Deneke said he had victory in his sights.
“I was thinking I was going to win. Every race you enter you want to think you’re going to win,” he said. “I was pushing, trying to get ahead during that last mile, but I was going to be happy with whatever happened.”
The finish was a little less dramatic on the women’s side. Yihunlish Delelecha, 29, of Ethiopia finished with an unofficial time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 39 seconds. She beat Everlyne Lagat of Kenya by 53 seconds.
With the win, Delelecha takes home $10,000 plus a $2,500 bonus for finishing under 2 hours, 31 minutes.
Saul Mendoza of Wimberley, Texas, successfully defended his title in the men’s wheelchair race, beating Jorge Jimenez of Spain by a wheelchair length.
Running conditions were cooler than usual, with temperatures of 54 degrees and a 13 mph tail wind for the 7:30 a.m. start. Within two hours the temperature dipped to 48 degrees.
Runners could see their breath along Lake Superior, although they were spared rain that poured down in the early morning but stopped about 30 minutes before the race.
“It was too cold for me at the start and that’s why I ran in a pack behind some of the other runners,” Kipyego said.
“It took me until about 20 miles, until about 90 minutes into the race, before my body felt warmed up enough to respond to a faster pace.”
Kipyego, who took second place last year when he finished 16 seconds behind the winner, needed every bit of warmth to win this year.
“At the end I was trying to push and (Deneke) was right there,” he said. “But I’m very good at sprinting. I’m very good at the finish line.”
He broke the finishing tape with his shoulder and his left foot hit the timing mat first, giving him the victory by a single step.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)